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History, Early Years of the Chakri Dynasty

extraterritorial rights, Thai kingdom, King Rama, British merchants, Chakri

The Chakri took the throne as King Rama I (Phraphutthayotfa) in 1782. It was natural that at a time of ongoing, bitter warfare with Burma, an exceptionally able general should have been chosen as king. However, Rama I was much more than that. He was highly intelligent and a natural leader. He also was related by blood or marriage to all the leading families of the kingdom and thus had strong connections with Thai trading interests, including China and India.

The new king moved the capital across the river to the eastern shore because the main Burmese military threat to the Thai came from the west. The new capital came to bear the name of the village it supplanted (Bang Kok, or Bangkok), although the Thai state continued to be known abroad as Siam.

Rama I was not free of the Burmese threat until 1805; nevertheless, he devoted effort to laying the foundations for a modern kingdom. He undertook fundamental legal and administrative reforms as well as extensive cultural, religious, and artistic activities. When his son succeeded him as King Rama II (Phraphutthaloetla) in 1809, the Thai kingdom was stronger and more extensive than ever, encompassing all of present-day Laos as well as portions of northeastern Burma, western Cambodia, and the northern Malay Peninsula.

Rama II died in 1824, and one of his sons succeeded him as King Rama III (Nangklao). By this time, the world seemed a more threatening place to the Thai. The British were beginning their colonial involvement in the Malay Peninsula and entering into war with Burma. Rama III faced increasing pressure from the British to open up Siamís trade. Following the British victory over Burma in 1826, the Thai government agreed to sign a treaty with Britain that allowed British merchants some trade concessions in Siam. The Thai signed a similar treaty with the United States in 1833.

In the 1830s and 1840s Siam went to war with the Vietnamese over Cambodia and Laos, emerging with its dominant position grudgingly recognized. As the end of Rama IIIís reign approached around 1850, Siam faced a renewed threat from the West. Both Britain and the United States sent missions to Siam demanding free trade, extraterritorial rights (which allowed the people of these foreign nations to live in Siam under the laws of their own countries), and other reforms. The royal court refused the demands quietly, explaining that progressives in the Thai government could not afford to appear too lenient with the West. However, the foreigners were encouraged to return once the progressives had managed the accession of a new king who would be more receptive to concessions.

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