Friday, May 20, 2016

The New Yorker

Presidential Swag and the Gift Horse
Robin Wright  May 20, 2016
In 1862, Abraham Lincoln wrote to King Mongkut, of Siam (the “King and I” king), to gently reject his gift of “a supply of elephants” with which to populate America’s forests.“ This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful,” Lincoln wrote. “Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation.”

Lincoln could not legally accept the elephants, in any case. The Founding Fathers were sufficiently concerned about foreign corruption of their young democracy that they enshrined a ban, in Article I of the Constitution, on U.S. officials accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” George H.W. Bush faced a similar dilemma when the President of Indonesia with a flesh-eating Komodo dragon. The present—not a good match for Millie, the First Dog—ended up at the Cincinnati Zoo, where he more than thirty little Komodo dragons. 

For President Obama, the most famous gift was to the youngest recipient. Read on....

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