In 1818, a merchant ship from the very young United States of America first arrived in the ancient Kingdom of Siam in the first recorded contact between the two nations. The ship carried a letter of greeting from U.S. President James Monroe. Christian missionaries soon arrived, becoming the first Americans to settle in the region. Additional ships brought fabrics, arms and other trade goods. In the early 1830s, the famed co-joined twins Chang and Eng became the first Siamese to emigrate to the United States.
In 1832, another American president — Andrew Jackson — dispatched the sloop-of-war Peacock to the courts of China-Cochin, Siam and Muscat. On board was his official envoy Edmund Roberts whose mission was to negotiate the first U.S. treaty with an Asian nation. As gifts for the Siamese king, President Jackson sent a gold sword with a design of an elephant and an eagle chased on a gold handle, along with a proof set of Americans coins. This included the “King of Siam” 1804 silver dollar. The set, minus a Jackson gold medal, was sold for a record price of $8.5 million in November 2005.
While Siam had previously established diplomatic and trade relations with Portugal, France and Great Britain, the negotiations conducted by Roberts marked the first time that Siam recognized America as an equal trading partner.
The resulting Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed on 20 March 1833 (2376 B.E. on the Buddhist calendar) with the Chao Phraya Phra Klang representing the Siamese king Phra Nang Klao– known in the West as Rama III — thereby establishing Thai-American diplomatic relations. It is the 180th anniversary of this friendship that is commemorated on the fifth release by Muang Phuket Local Post, scheduled for issuance on 11 December 2013.
Ratifications to the treaty were exchanged on 14 April 1836 and the formal proclamation made on 24 June 1837. Thus, Thailand has enjoyed treaty relations with the United States longer than any other Asian nation, even longer than China or Japan. Another treaty signed on 1 May 1856 granted Americans extraterritorial rights and resulted in the appointment of missionary Stephen Matoon as the first U.S. Consul to Bangkok.
Interestingly enough, the Siamese king at the time — Mongkut, or Rama IV — sent a letter to President Rutherford B. Hayes in early 1861 offering to send America elephants for use use as beasts-of-burden in the American Civil War (not combat war elephants as has widely been reported). President Abraham Lincoln replied, graciously turning down the offer while reasoning that such animals wouldn’t be ideal for the climate.
In April 1879, Ulysses S. Grant became the first former U.S. president to visit Siam and on 11 October 1902 Crown Prince Vajiravudh, who would later be crowned King Rama VI, arrived in the United States. The first ruling monarchs of the Kingdom finally visited America from April to late July 1931 with a private visit of Their Majesties King Prajadhipok and Queen Rambhai Barni. The first state visit by a Thai king would not occur until 1960.
Siam was an American ally during the First World War and additional treaties were negotiated between the two nations in 1920 and 1937, concluded following a coup and the 1932 establishment of a constitutional monarchy. In 1939 the Kingdom was given a new name, Muang Thai — Thailand.
On 8 December 1941, Japanese troops occupied Thailand. The day included the “invasion” of Phuket, somewhat a non-event with several military encampments at various locations including the present-day bus station on Phang Nga Road and on Nekkard Hill, site of the Big Buddha. Thailand signed a secret treaty in Tokyo which allowed for the passage of Japanese troops between Burma and Malaya in exchange for assistance in recovering lands lost to French Indochina. As a result, Japan also forced Thailand to declare war on the United States.
However, the underground resistance movement called Seri Thai (Free Thai) founded by Thai Ambassador to the U.S. Seni Pramdoj and assisted by the CIA-forerunner Office of Strategic Services (OSS) assured that the declaration of war was never delivered in Washington. Throughout the war, Thai and American diplomats — often with support from members of the royal family such as Prince Chula Chakrabongse — worked closely to liberate Thai sovereignty from the Japanese.
Following World War II, Thai-American relations continued to strengthen. Soon after H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej — Rama IX, born in the U.S.A. at Cambridge, Massachusetts — ascended the throne in 1946, Thailand was admitted as the 55th member of the United Nations. The Kingdom was one of the first countries to send troops to assist America in the conflict against North Korea.
Their Majesties King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit accompanied by their four children, spent June and July of 1960 on a state visit to the United States. Their trip took in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Williamsburg VA, New York City, Boston, Knoxville TN, Colorado Springs CO, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and San Francisco. A return trip by the royal family in June 1967 included visits to Honolulu, New York City, North Adams MA, Los Angeles, Tarrytown NY, and North Haven ME.
The previous October, President Lyndon Johnson, accompanied by his wife Lady Bird, had become the first sitting U.S. president to make a state visit to Thailand. He returned to visit troops in Korat on 23 December 1967 and was followed by Richard Nixon in July 1969. Additional U.S. presidents making the journey to Thailand were Bill Clinton (November 1996, with his wife Hillary to honor the King on his 50th anniversary of rule), George W. Bush (October 2003 and August 2008), and Barack Obama in November 2012.
Thailand would go on to sign various military and security related treaties with the United States in the 1960s and became America’s prime base of operations for supply channels, mission launches, and other covert operations in the Vietnam War. Thailand also became a prime R&R hub for American soldiers and airmen in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Up to the present, despite periods of domestic political turmoil, friendship between the United States and Thailand has continued to thrive, driven by mutual trade and security interests, continuing to embroider a fine pact of friendship and alliance bonded by similarities and attracted as opposites.
Earlier this year, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey sponsored a resolution which was read at the U.S. Senate marking the 180th anniversary of the 1833 signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, Senator Menendez and his colleagues congratulated the Kingdom of Thailand and its people, noting that the United States and Thailand “shared values of democracy, rule of law, universal human rights, human security, open societies and a free market,” and that half a million people of Thai descent are living in the United States and pursuing “the American Dream.”
Congress also cited the Thai people’s celebration of King Bhumibol’s birthday and praised “the world’s longest-serving monarch, who is loved and respected for his lifelong dedication to the social and economic development of the people of Thailand.” The resolution looked forward to continued and lasting good ties between the peoples of both countries. “The bonds of friendship and mutual respect between the United States and Thailand are strong,’’ said Senator Menendez.
The Muang Phuket Local Post stamp in commemoration of Thai-American Friendship will be issued with a face value of 25 satang, imperforate in ungummed sheets of twenty-five stamps each (four rows of five). The design features entwined American and Thai national flags in a figure-eight pattern that is deemed a lucky symbol in Theravada Buddhism. This signifies the nearly two centuries of joint cooperation between the two nations. The legend “180 Years of Thai-American Friendship 1833-2013” is portrayed in red and blue as are the usual “Muang Phuket Local Post” and denomination inscriptions. It complete the three-issue Americana 2013 stamp series.
A limited number of first day covers will be prepared and receive the MPLP postmark dated 11-12-13 before being delivered to the main Phuket City Thailand Post office via either “Tuk Tuk Express Service” or “Elephant Post” for entry into the regular mailstream. The “Maritime Mail” with Paquebot markings will have to wait a bit longer due to lack of sufficient water in the canals.
On a side note, the first day covers for the Kennedy Anniversary issue of 22 November seem to have completely vanished into the labyrinth of the Thai postal service. The Gettysburg Address covers arrived at my home eleven days after dispatch at the post office, a distance of approximately 3 kilometers.