The Return of the Legation Lions

TALIM Lion Letter page 1Paraphrasing comic Dave Barry, Legation Lions would be a good name for a football team…

No, the "Legation Lions" refers to the rather cumbersome gifts that Presidents used to given by Moroccan Sultans back in the 1800s.  And the poor Tangier consuls who had to deal with the furry beasts.

From the US State Department Office of the Historian:

In 1834, the Sultan presented Tangier US Consul James Leib with a lion and two Arabian horses as gifts for the President.  He had to house the lion until he could persuade his superiors to transport it and the horses to the United States.  After much debate, Congress passed a resolution calling for the animals to be sold at auction.  The “Numidian Lion” fetched $3,350, with the proceeds being divided between two Washington orphanages.

His successor Thomas Carr was faced with a similar quandary:

The Sultan of Morocco presented Carr with two lions and two horses.  Congress passed another resolution authorizing the President to “dispose in such time and manner as he shall see fit of all such of the presents as cannot conveniently be deposited or kept in the Department of State, and cause the proceeds to be placed in the Treasury of the United States.”  The animals were duly sold when they arrived in Philadelphia in 1840.

For years, the scanned letter where Carr plaintively writes of lions eating him out of house and home on his meager Consul's salary has enchanted Legation museum visitors.  Especially amusing is the "gift you can't refuse' aspect: giving the lions back would result in the messenger's decapitation.  Not an option for a Consul with a conscience.

TALIM Lion letter page 2 - Decapitate

The previous scans' sickly green hue (maybe it was the early scan technology) finally became an eyesore, and we vowed to put up more presentable images.

TALIM Lion letter page 5Enter Kristen Kouttab and the Moroccan American Cultural Center in Washington.  With her colleague Dave Bloom, they went to the US National Archives in College Park Maryland and, with the help of friendly NARA archivist David Langbart, located the original letter and took these stunning photographs.  We only regret that we don't have an action photo of Dave Bloom climbing on tables and chairs to get the right shot in challenging lighting conditions.

The National Archives contain the "lion letter" and other treasures of American history that are there waiting for other Legation friends to exploit.  There's even an exhibit (sans lions) of famous gifts to US Presidents.  We greatly appreciate Kristen, Dave, and MACC help on getting this piece of American history in Morocco.

Now, we'll get the five sheets of the letter properly framed, as well as the beautiful but slow-to-read 19th century cursive handwriting transcribed for museum visitors.

Perhaps it was the pressure of dealing with successive sets of lions, but Leib and Carr later succumbed to Demon Rum and exhibited rather odd behavior on Zankat Amrika, recounted in our previous blog post on Crazy Consuls.  The Legation's tales never cease to fascinate.

Gerald Loftus

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