By using this site, you agree to the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.
Close X

One presidential pardon explained

  • Presidential turkey pardon is now a staple of the holidays
  • Historians trace first WH turkey pardon to the 1860’s
  • This year, you can vote on the pardoned turkeys' names
One presidential pardon explained

While nearly 50 million turkeys will end up on our dinner tables this Thursday, for two very lucky turkeys, Thanksgiving means freedom -- as well as a few minutes in the national spotlight.

Historians trace the first White House turkey pardon to the 1860’s, when Abraham Lincoln granted a pardon to a pet turkey belonging to his youngest son Tad. Moments before the bird was to be executed as part of a holiday meal, Tad barged into a cabinet meeting and between sobs told his dad, “he's a good turkey, and I don't want him killed!” Lincoln then took out a card, and on it wrote an order of reprieve -- thus saving the turkey’s life.

Gotta Watch: Revenge of the turkeys

But turning the act of "pardoning" a turkey into an annual White House tradition actually took quite some time to take hold. During Dwight Eisenhower’s first year in office, the National Turkey Federation began the tradition of presenting the president with a turkey each Thanksgiving. But instead of pardoning the turkey, Dwight Eisenhower merely ate the bird -- as well as every single turkey presented to him during both terms in office. 

Finally, in 1989, during George H.W. Bush’s first Thanksgiving in office, the modern-day presidential turkey pardon tradition finally took hold. When presented with a potential oven roaster, President Bush responded, "He will not end up on anyone's dinner table -- not this guy," Bush said. "He's granted a presidential pardon as of right now."

The Presidential turkey pardon is now a staple of the holiday season -- complete with a Rose Garden press ceremony. This year’s turkey pardon will take place on Wednesday, when two birds raised on AgForte farm in Willmar, Minnesota, will share a few minutes in the limelight with President Obama. There’s still time to decide on a name for this lucky turkey pair

Then, after the ceremony, instead of going to Disneyworld as in years past, these birds will take a short trip to Mount Vernon Estates and Gardens, where they'll be on display to visitors through January 6.

Join the conversation... welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.
World's oldest panda celebrates with a party!
Special Occasions | See all 527 items World's oldest panda celebrates with a party!