A History of the Presidential Turkey Pardon

tags: Turkey, Thanksgiving




Like most American traditions, the presidential turkey pardon is wrought with intrigue and legend. Now a holiday staple, the pardon was once merely a presentation – with the chosen birds going to the gallows rather than a farm in Virginia. Most presidents have had turkeys formally given to them, but it was not until the first President George Bush officially used the word “pardon” during the ceremony in 1989 that the custom formally began.

Iterations of the presentation go back to Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863, at the behest of his son Tad, spared a Christmas turkey from his table. Tad had adopted the bird, named it Jack and taught it to follow him around the White House grounds.

A Rhode Island poultry dealer named Horace Vose – in either a show of patriotism or as a means of boosting his business – bolstered the tradition by sending the chief executive his Thanksgiving turkey for four decades, starting with Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s and ending after Mr. Vose died in 1913.




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