Just the Facts

Five Facts on Presidential Turkey Pardons

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November 21, 2018 | Blog

Abraham Lincoln is credited as the first president to pardon a Turkey

According to an 1865 dispatch by White House reporter Noah Brooks, President Lincoln was the first president to exercise clemency on a turkey when he had allowed one to live two years prior in 1863; however, it was not the president’s idea.  As the story goes, Lincoln’s young son Tad became attached to a turkey that had been sent to the White House, naming it Jack, adopting it as a pet, and begging his father to spare its life.  The president abided, and Jack was allowed to live.  The one catch is that Jack had been intended for Christmas dinner.

Horace Vose, a poultry farmer in Rhode Island, began the tradition of giving presidents Thanksgiving turkeys in 1873

Vose, who was reportedly known as the “Turkey King” began sending the turkeys in 1873 when he sent President Ulysses S. Grant a 38-pound bird.  He continued the tradition every year until his death in 1913.  However, Vose never gave the president a chance to pardon the prized turkeys, as he would deliver the birds dead, dressed, and ready to be roasted.

President Harry Truman was the first president to receive a live turkey

In 1947, Truman was gifted a live bird by the National Turkey Federation, an industry group that has presented the presidential turkey ever since.  However, the turkeys that Truman received were not as lucky as the ones delivered to the White House today.  Truman graciously accepted the bird and served it for dinner shortly thereafter.  In fact, every president from Harry Truman through Lyndon B. Johnson ate their birds.  The only exception is John F. Kennedy, who upon receiving his turkey stated, “we’ll just let this one grow.”

President George H.W. Bush was the first president to officially hold a turkey-pardoning ceremony

While President Nixon, and every president thereafter, has shown mercy to the presidential turkey, sending them to various petting farms around the country, President Bush officially started the tradition in 1989.  While at the annual turkey presentation, he stated “Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy — he’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”

This year President Trump pardoned two turkeys named Peas and Carrots

The two prized turkeys were chosen from “the Presidential Flock” of turkeys, which are raised in South Dakota and have been acclimated to crowd sounds and bright camera lights from a young age, according to the Turkey Federation.  Both turkeys enjoyed luxury accommodations upon their arrival to DC, staying in the upscale Willard InterContinental Hotel.  They were granted complete pardons by the president and will live out the rest of their days at Gobbler’s Rest at Virginia Tech.

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