Abraham Lincoln

The Political Cartoon That Explains the Battle Over Reconstruction

The end of the U. S. Civil War left the nation in shambles. President Abraham Lincoln faced the monumental tasks of re-integrating the South back into the Union, healing political wounds, and guiding freed slaves into a new life. But Lincoln was assassinated, and Andrew Johnson became president. Johnson’s approach to postwar rebuilding was different from what Lincoln had in mind. Historian Michael Les Benedict and history professors Heather Richardson and Brooks Simpson explain what went on.

“He pardons all but about 1,500 of the leading Confederates,” Richardson says. “Those people who took the South out of the Union are now free and fair citizens again of the United States, less than…

Learn Why The Lincoln Administration Turned Down a Chance to Populate the United States With Elephants

When a new president takes office, it’s normal to get showered with diplomatic greetings, gifts, and political overtures. But when Abraham Lincoln’s administration moved into the White House, they turned down what could have been the greatest gift of all: the chance to populate the United States with wild elephants.

In 1861, Lincoln received a pile of swag from King Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut of the country then known as Siam. You might know him better for his role in the hit musical The King and I, which fictionalized his relationship with English governess Anna Leonowens. What is true is that Mongkut was eager to “get to know” the West better—during his reign, he managed to open up and begin modernizing Siam.

The gesture wasn’t actually meant for Lincoln: In fact, Mongkut had sent the presents to “whomsoever the people have elected anew as chief ruler in place of President Buchanan.” He sent along a pile of lavish gifts, from a precious handmade sword to photos of himself and his daughter to two gigantic elephant tusks. But much more meaningful was the king’s offer to send along a generous stock of elephants that could be bred on American soil.

It’s no wonder Mongkut offered that gift: Pachyderms were not only native to what is now Thailand, but were also prized as important and valuable…