Sure, It's the Thought that Counts...But What do These Gifts Mean??





Gift-giving is a fundamental part of international diplomacy, a practice that extends back to the early years of the U.S. Republic. Each year, the president of the United States, his family, and other federal employees give and receive hundreds of gifts. Of course, the Constitution prohibits any government official from receiving foreign gifts without the express authorization of Congress. Thus, according to The New York Times,"American leaders may only keep those items of 'minimal value.' The rest are considered, both by the Constitution and the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act of 1966, to be the property of the people of the United States and end up in presidential libraries or other public collections."1

The following, according to the NYT, is the State Department's tally of gifts received by W and friends in 2001:

PRESIDENT BUSH

  • Gift: Brown leather hat with drawstring
    Value: $30
    From: Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan
  • Gift: Aqua di Parma cologne, soap, facial cream and cologne deoderant
    Value: $263
    From: Silvio Berlusconi, president of Italy
  • Gift: Barbour Thomproof, Classic Beaufort jacket
    Value: $354
    From: Tony Blair, prime minister of Britain
  • Gift: Handmade ostrich-skin cowboy boots made by the Montana Boot Company
    Value: $400
    From: Vincente Fox, president of Mexico
  • Gift: Fancy mirror, handmade in Syria
    Value: $600
    From: Rostom al-Zoubi, ambassador of Syria

FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH

  • Gift: Two petrified wood pieces presented in straw-colored, heart-shaped containers; two wooden stands included
    Value: $100
    From: Didier Ratsiraka, president of Madagascar
  • Gift: Gzhel tea and coffee set
    Value: $200
    From: Vladimir Putin, president of Russia

BUSH DAUGHTERS: JENNA AND BARBARA

Gift: Coral necklaces
Value: $750 each
From: Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of Yemen

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DONALD H. RUMSFELD

Gift: Large wooden chest with brass and copper fittings
Value: $340
From: Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR CONDOLEEZA S. RICE

Gift: Porcelain vase
Value: $350
From: Vladimir B. Rushaylo, secretary of the Russian Security Council

SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN L. POWELL

Gift: Orthodox egg, pierced sterling silver gilt set with imitation diamonds
Value: $2,000
From: Igor S. Ivanov, Russian minister of foreign affairs

CHIEF OF PROTOCOL OF THE STATE DEPARTMENT DONALD BURNHAM ENSENAT

Gift: 17-inch Algerian dagger
From: Algeria

GIFT-GIVING IN THE EARLY YEARS

Recent U.S. presidents are not the only ones to have had lavish gifts bestowed upon them. In fact, as Richard Shenkman and Kurt Reiger point out in their book One-Night Stands with American History, in the early years of the Republic, the U.S. itself regularly paid tribute to foreign governments in order to maintain peaceful relations, and was given many gifts in return. In 1786, for example,"the United States gave $10,000 to Morocco; in 1795 it began"donating" an annual tribute of $21,600 to Algiers. According to Shenkman and Reiger, a 1797 treaty negotiated with Tripoli included among its promises American gifts of:

  • $40,000 in gold and silver coins
  • Five rings (three with diamonds, one with a sapphire, one with a watch)
  • 141 ells of fine cloth
  • Four caftans of brocade
  • $12,000 in Spanish currency

"In 1806, Thomas Jefferson was presented with four Arabian horses by the Bey of Tunis," they reveal. Other gifts offered to the United States included:

  • Four Arabian horses from Turkey (1832)
  • One lion and two studs from Moroco (1835)
  • Two gold-mounted swords from Siam (1836)
  • Two lions and two horses from Morocco (1839)
  • Two Arabian horses, one string of 150 pearls, two large-size pearls, one carpet, one bottle of oil of rose, four cashmere shawls, five demijohns of rosewater, one gold-mounted sword from Oman (1840)
  • Two horses from Oman (1844)

Another amusing factual tidbit from One-Night Stands: In 1861, the King of Siam offered the U.S. dozens of elephants, but President Lincoln politely refused them.

In short, gift-giving has and continues to serve as an essential element of international diplomacy. No one could have been farther from the truth than Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, when he boasted of the United States,"Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."2


ENDNOTES
1 Zeller, Tom."Please Accept This Gift With Our, Uh, Compliments." The New York Times 28 July 2002.
2 Shenkman, Richard and Kurt Reiger. One-Night Stands with American History. New York: Quill Publishing, 1982.


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