The Consul and I
In this episode of Consolation Prize, we meet two Americans in 1860s Thailand. Reverend Dan Beach Bradley was a Christian missionary and a newspaper publisher, and Captain James Madison Hood was the US consul to the Kingdom of Siam. These two men could not be more different from one another, but they both craved power in their own ways. In their quest for political power and moral superiority, they got involved in an international diplomatic kerfuffle of epic proportions in the Kingdom of Siam.
Dr. Shane Strate is Associate Professor of Southeast Asian History at Kent State University. He specializes in the political history of Thailand including Thailand’s experience with imperialism, nationalism, and post-colonialism. His book The Lost Territories: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation, examines two important and contrasting strands of Thai historiography: the well-known Royal-Nationalist history, which celebrates Thailand’s long history of uninterrupted independence; and what Strate terms the “National Humiliation discourse” which is the mirror image to the independence narratives.
George C. Kingston is an independent author and biographer. Kingston’s book James Madison Hood: Lincoln’s Consul at the Court of Siam, is the only published book on Captain James Madison Hood, a politician and US Consul. Kingston holds a PhD. in Engineering.
MULLEN: I’m Abby Mullen. This is Consolation Prize, a podcast about the United States in the world through the eyes of its consuls.
The consul we’re interested in today is named James Madison Hood–a very American name for a very American man. He was sent to Siam in 1865. Quick note: You’ll hear two terms for the same country in our episode today. Today, and since the 1930s, we call Siam Thailand. Siam was a term Westerners used for the country, but it was also embraced by the king at certain points in its history. That very king, King Mongkut, is going to be a key player in our story. But the antagonist in our story isn’t the king–at least, not exactly. Instead, it’s another American: Dan Beach Bradley. So let’s start with him.
Before we get to Hood and Bradley, I wanted to tell you that this is the second-to-last episode of Consolation Prize. We’re shutting down the show at the end of this season. To help us celebrate all that we’ve accomplished over the past two seasons, we’re doing a little giveaway. Here’s what you need to do: go to our website and leave us a voice mail telling us something that you’ve learned from Consolation Prize. It could be about consuls, or podcasting, or really anything you want to tell us about how you’ve responded to the show. You can find our voicemail at consolationprize.rrchnm.org (or just Google Consolation Prize Podcast–it’ll come right up). You could win a Consolation Prize tumbler and some free-trade Nicaraguan coffee! But you only have until June 10 to do it. Please let us know what you’ve thought about our show.
MULLEN: OK, let’s go back to Bradley. Dr. Dan Beach Bradley had come to Siam in the 1830s. Bradley was a lean man with hollowed-out cheeks and a long gray beard. He had strict ideas about what was morally right and wrong. He was a very committed Christian and a missionary–but he also held some views that had gotten him kicked out of his own denomination. Over the next thirty years Bradley got into a lot of different things. He was a missionary. He was a doctor who brought Western ideas about medicine to Siam. He was a newspaper editor and the owner of the first Siamese-type printing press in Siam. Most importantly, he was the personal friend and interpreter for the Siamese ruler, King Mongkut. And eventually, he was the political enemy of one James Madison Hood.
MULLEN: James Madison Hood could not have been more different from Dan Beach Bradley, both in temperament and comportment. He weighed over 200 pounds, and he was the consummate slick politician. He was known to be blustery and sure of himself. He was willing to bend the law if it suited his needs. He came to Siam in 1865 with a questionable history. He had started his career as a shipbuilder. During that time, not one but two of his shipbuilding enterprises had caught fire under mysterious circumstances–and Hood made an insurance claim. He dabbled in politics for a while. He then moved to Illinois where he campaigned on behalf of Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party. His campaigning for Lincoln put him in a political position where he could ask for a consulship–so that’s what he did.
MULLEN: In 1866, Bradley and Hood got in the middle of a huge international dispute. It involved the court of Siam, the consuls of France and Britain, and the famous English governess, Anna Leonowens. Yes, that Anna Leonowens–the one who is in The King and I.
[“Getting to Know You,” from The King and I]
MULLEN: This conflict was about land rights. If you’re already thinking, what do Americans have to do with land rights in Asia? Well, we’ll get to that. But first George Kingston, who has written extensively about Hood and Siam, is going to set up the stakes for us. It’s not just about Siam. It’s also about the countries in its vicinity–and the European powers that wanted to move in.
KINGSTON: Siam was the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized. All the others were colonized by somebody. At the time that he was there, the British were in Burma, which is to the north of Siam, and the French were in Indochina and moving into Cambodia. Cambodia was a country that was a kingdom that pay tribute in part to Siam, as well as to Indochina. And so the king saw the French rose into Cambodia as a threat. And he was trying to play off the British versus the French to keep his country independent.
MULLEN: Historically, rulers of parts of Cambodia had deep, hierarchical alliances with Siam. However, it wasn’t that simple. Other parts of Cambodia were ruled by minor kings who pledged fealty to the rulers of Vietnam. In the 1850s, the French colonized parts of Vietnam, which they called Cochin-China.
STRATE: When the French take over Vietnam, they begin to exercise this concept of historical sovereignty. And they say, Okay, we control Vietnam, that means we also control everything that was a vassal of Vietnam, historically. And that includes Cambodia. And that, in part is what draws them into this conflict with Siam, who was saying, wait a minute, why aren’t we going to share Cambodia, the way that we’ve always shared it right, your sovereignty, conception is incompatible with ours.
MULLEN: This is Shane Strate, a historian of Southeast Asia. He told us that this dispute wasn’t the only thing the French were mad about. They felt that the king of Siam was favoring the British over them: giving them less access to the court and fewer opportunities for trade.
STRATE: The British are very happy with their relationship with Siam. They’re dominating the commercial trade between Siam in the West. They like the idea of an independent Siam as a buffer state between their empire in Burma and India, and what the French are trying to build in the Mekong region. So they’re very happy, and they’re strong supporters of the Siamese monarchy, it’s really the French that are dissatisfied with the situation and that are threatening Siamese interests and really, are the whole destabilizing influence in this whole story.
MULLEN: With all this turmoil between the Siamese, the French, and the British, in steps American Dan Beach Bradley to make trouble. He decided that he would use his newspaper to expose some double dealings in the court of Siam. Here’s how it breaks down:
MULLEN: In August of 1863, the French made a treaty with Norodom, the ruler of Cambodia. This treaty made Cambodia a protectorate of France. In December 1863, King Mongkut convinced Norodom to sign an equivalent treaty with Siam–but he kept it a secret from the French. This treaty made Cambodia a protectorate of Siam, and it made Norodom a ‘Viceroy.’
MULLEN: How could Cambodia have so many treaties going at the same time? Shane told us that it all boiled down to two competing notions of ‘sovereignty.’ The Western view of property ownership and the Siamese view of property ownership were completely at odds with each other. This disconnect pretty much guaranteed that there would be trouble when both sides tried to claim the same land.
STRATE: The Europeans bring with them to Southeast Asia, a new conception of space and sovereignty. So a new type of geography, whereby, you know, polities are defined not by their center, but by their margins, its boundaries that matter, right, its borders that matter. The periphery is what matters. Every spot on the globe is defined in terms of its territory, and it belongs to somebody. So those are very important to understand the Siamese think about space and sovereignty very differently in the 1860s. Their focus is very much on the center, right? On towns and cities, that’s what matters, because that’s where people are, you know, Siamese rulers, Southeast Asian rulers, they only care about control of people, they don’t care about control of territory, the space in between the cities, is just rocks and trees, and lakes, and who cares about that, right? It doesn’t matter who that belongs to, because it doesn’t have any value to them. So why bother claiming ownership over it? The other thing is that sovereignty is not exclusive, it can be shared, right? It can be overlapping.
MULLEN: Maybe you can already see where this is going–this kind of thinking about land is not at all the way European empires–or for that matter, the United States–think about land ownership.
STRATE: The area, at the core of this dispute, of course, is Cambodia, right, Who does Cambodia belong to? At different points in its history, Cambodia has been a vassal of both the Siamese ruler in Bangkok, and the Vietnamese emperor in Hue, paying, paying homage, oaths of fealty, tributes to both of them at the same time, and recognizing those overlords and, and you know, the king in Bangkok, and the Emperor in Húe didn’t really care, because as long as they’re getting their tribute, you know, it doesn’t matter who else the Cambodian King is paying, right. And for the Cambodian rulers, it’s kind of useful as well, because of the demands from Húe become too severe, they can shift their allegiance towards Bangkok, and sort of try to play one overlord against the other, right? So so they’re happy with that. When the French and the British arrived, however, this notion of shared sovereignty is is incomprehensible, it’s unacceptable. It doesn’t work. In part, because it’s incompatible with the demands of a global economy. The Europeans arrived, and they immediately start to accelerate the exploitation of the natural world, right? A teak forest is not just trees, it is trees that we’re going to harvest to build ships, to create navies to expand our geopolitical influence, right. So now all of a sudden, we have to know which tree belongs to who; we have to have this delineated conception of sovereignty. We can’t just, you know, we can’t just share sovereignty, and we can’t just relegate these to being in empty spaces. So that’s really important.
MULLEN: For whatever reason, Dan Beach Bradley decided that he wanted to weigh in on this dispute by publishing some sensitive documents–including the secret treaty.
KINGSTON: Dan Beach Bradley, who published the news, local English newspaper, somehow got a hold of a copy of this and published it, which really upset both the French and the king. And the king tried to shut down Bradley’s newspaper.
MULLEN: Remember that the king and Bradley were friends–so this was a pretty extreme reaction by Mongkut.
KINGSTON: Now, this is where it gets interesting. Where did Bradley get his information? Well, there was this woman Anna Leonowens, okay, better known as from Anna and the King of Siam, who was not just a teacher for the king’s children, but was his personal secretary for English and French. She would write up all of his official papers in English and French. So she had access to all this paperwork, and she was close with the English consul Thomas Knox. And it’s quite probable that she is the one who was passing information to the English and Knox probably leaked it to Bradley in order to embarrass the French.
MULLEN: The French didn’t want to share Cambodia with Siam–and it didn’t make their empire look too strong if they couldn’t keep Cambodia to themselves. And Bradley had just aired their embarrassment for all of Siam to see.
MULLEN: So the French sent someone to figure out all this mess. French consul Gabriel Aubaret arrived in Bangkok in 1865. His job was to try to save face and negotiate a new treaty about Cambodia, this time with Siam. But his conversations with the king didn’t go particularly well.
MULLEN: For some reason, Bradley wasn’t ready to lay off the French just yet. He decided he was going to make things very difficult for Aubaret. When a French naval vessel appeared in Bangkok, he wrote:
KRIS STINSON (as Dan Beach Bradley): “The French man-of-war Mistraille came in the morning, producing quite a panic as she came to compel the Siamese government to abandon their last treaty with the Cambodian king.”
MULLEN: One ship of war was not enough force to actually compel Mongkut to do anything. But Bradley wanted to blow the whole situation way out of proportion–it even seems like he might have exaggerated the size and power of the ship. He seemed hellbent on doing whatever he could to keep France and Siam from signing another treaty.
MULLEN: The treaty was actually overwhelmingly positive for Siam and its rights over Cambodia. But Bradley didn’t see it that way: he saw Aubaret, and the French, as a threat, and he wanted to put up as many obstacles as possible. Aubaret complained to King Mongkut about Bradley’s over-the-top rhetoric. Aubaret wanted the king to stop Bradley from publishing any more sensationalized news. Honestly there’s a lot of “Mom, make him stop!” energy here–on both sides. Bradley said that if the king gave in, then Siam had already become “a province of France.” The United States was a relatively small player in the area, but Bradley didn’t let that stop him from sharing his views. He held a lot of power through his newspaper, and he was determined to use it. He also told his friends in the Siamese government that the French “bark is often worse than the bite.” Or so they could all hope.
MULLEN: Basically, Bradley was anti-French. He sided with the British Consul Thomas Knox and Anna Leonowens. The growing divide between Bradley, Leonowens, and Knox versus Aubaret and the French came to a head later in 1865. Bradley had one more dramatic news piece to print about Aubaret. The piece proclaimed that Aubaret had insulted King Mongkut, demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister of Siam, and, worst of all, he had physically assaulted a Thai official.
MULLEN: These claims were finally too much for Aubaret. He filed a case of libel against Bradley, claiming $1500 in damages. Because Bradley was an American, the case was to be tried in the consular court under the jurisdiction of Bradley’s not-so-close friend, US Consul James Madison Hood.
MULLEN: Since this is a lawsuit brought in Siam, about Siamese affairs, it feels odd that the case was tried in an American court. But in Siam, Americans weren’t accountable to Siamese laws. They were only accountable to American law–and hence, they could be tried by American officials. This is a concept called extraterritoriality.
STRATE: Extraterritoriality means that foreign nationals are exempt from the laws of the land, right? They’re exempt from the laws of the country that they’re living in and instead, that they are subject to the laws of their home country. So a British national living in Siam cannot be arrested and charged when they break Siamese law. Europeans don’t want to be subject to the laws of non Christian and therefore in their mind, inferior nations, right. And so they insist on this version of diplomatic immunity. So they want to be immune from these laws. What that means then, is that European and American countries established consulates in Bangkok for the very first time and they, you know, they appoint consoles to run these, to sort of supervise the relations with their foreign nationals living in Siam. Every country then has its own court system operating, including, including the United States. Now, consuls are responsible for the enforcement of these laws and the running of these courts. But most of the time, they’re really reluctant to enforce these laws. So even when you have an American citizen who’s broken American law, the American consul is more often than not going to look the other way rather than try to hold them accountable. Particularly if it’s a dispute between an American and a Siamese subject, right. And that’s where it gets really complicated. Because in the business dealings between Europeans and Siamese, you have all kinds of, you know, illegality and abuse and infractions. If you’re a Siamese who engages in business dealings with American and they cheat you or they steal from you or they abuse you, your only recourse is in an American court.
MULLEN: The American consul, James Madison Hood, may have been taking advantage of this extraterritoriality to line his own pockets. On one occasion, he worked with a Captain Higgins to regain money that Higgins had lent to a member of the Siamese royal family. Hood volunteered to intervene on behalf of Higgins and collected close to $1000 from the Siamese debtor. Hood also claimed a pretty large sum as fees for his service. At the same time, he claimed that this was not a matter that came before the consular court. Instead Hood argued that he had acted as a private arbitrator and the fees he charged–25% of the total amount recovered–were totally reasonable and money that should go into his personal account.
MULLEN: Now of course we’re not talking about an American and a Siamese subject. We’re talking about an American and a FRENCH subject. Which makes the whole question of jurisdiction that much more complicated.
MULLEN: The jury in Bradley’s case included two of his missionary colleagues and a local businessman. The jury was inclined to be sympathetic toward Bradley. But that didn’t mean it was going to be an easy win for Bradley. The case centered on Aubaret’s assault of the Siamese official. And two key eyewitnesses about the assault failed to appear: one, the Siamese officials who were in the room, and the other, Anna Leonowens’s son Louis, who supposedly saw the whole thing. Making matters worse for Bradley, the court of Siam didn’t want to play ball either. They not only didn’t want to testify against Aubaret–they didn’t want their names in the records at all. In fact, they wanted Hood to provide the names of the people who had said that members of the royal family had been witnesses to the assault–presumably so they could be disciplined for dragging the royal family into this sordid dispute.
MULLEN: By all accounts, Hood ran a fair trial. Before the libel suit was even brought, Hood wrote to the State Department asking how to adjudicate the dispute without infringing on Bradley’s right of free expression. But in the end, he ruled against Bradley, and in favor of Aubaret.
MULLEN: Hood was intensely pro-American–as you’d expect from a consul–so I think maybe Bradley thought that Hood would rule for him and against the hated Frenchman just because he was American. But Hood didn’t. So Bradley thought that Hood had it out for him personally. There were rumors that Hood had spoken with the Siamese government to force Bradley into confessing his sources. Bradley must have thought this was why his friends within the Siamese court had not come to his aid during the trial.
MULLEN: When Hood went away on vacation in early July, Bradley drily wrote in his journal:
STINSON (as Bradley): “The consul goes as an invalid in quest of health. As he is manifestly not very ill and the cause not at all urgent for a change it does not seem quite right that he should leave so near the 4th of July when, according to good old custom the U.S. consul has led in the usual festivities of the day.”
MULLEN: I don’t think Hood was actually running away from Bradley, but it is true that Bradley had often demonstrated just how vicious an opponent he could be.
MULLEN: Even though Hood had made a lifelong enemy in Dan Beach Bradley, you could argue that he acted exactly as we might expect a consul to act. He was well-liked by King Mongkut and the court of Siam and by British consul Knox and other British officials in Siam. Hood was efficient about taking care of the matters that came under his jurisdiction even if he may have charged a little more than what was considered as a fair consular fee.
MULLEN: In terms of how things shook out for Siam, The Siam-French Treaty regarding Cambodia was finally signed in 1867. But this did not stop the conflict between the Kingdom of Siam and France. Things came to a head a couple of decades later, once again when Siam and France disagreed on the control of another region , in this case modern-day Laos. This dispute led to the Siamese-French War of 1893. Siam lost. It conceded Laos to France, losing one-third of its territory.
MULLEN: And what of Bradley and Hood? Well, they both kept right on being themselves. Bradley continued his work in Siam until he died in 1873–he’s buried in Bangkok. And as for Hood? His continued antagonism toward key Americans in Bangkok–and his willingness to be a little loose with the rules–finally caught up to him, and he left Siam in 1868 under a bit of a cloud. And neither of them ever again got involved in a land dispute in Asia.
Producer: Abby Mullen, Deepthi Murali and Kris Stinson
Experts: George C. Kingston, Dr. Shane Strate (Kent State University)
Music: Andrew Cote
Voice Actor: Kris Stinson (Dan Beach Bradley)
Don’t forget to leave us a voicemail!
William Lee Bradley, Siam Then: The Foreign Colony in Bangkok Before and After Anna. Aliens, 1981.
Lawrence Palmer Briggs, “Aubaret and the Treaty of July 15, 1867 between France and Siam,” Far Eastern Quarterly (Vol 6, No.2, February, 1947, pp.122-138).
George C. Kingston, James Madison Hood: Lincoln’s Consul to the Court of Siam. McFarland Incorporated Publishers, 2013.
Donald C. Lord, “Missionaries, Thai, and Diplomats,” Pacific Historical Review (Vol. 25, No.4, November 1966, pp.413-431).
Shane Strate, Lost Territories: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation. University of Hawaii Press, 2016.
Ntina Tzouvala, ‘“And the laws are rude … crude and uncertain’ : extraterritoriality and the emergence of territorialised statehood in Siam,” The Extraterritoriality of Law. Routledge, 2019.
Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. University of Hawaii Press, 1997.
Department of State, “Despatches: Volume 3: January 31, 1864: December 23, 1869 / Volume 4: January 1, 1870 – August 4, 1872,” National Archives, Washington D.C.