The Presidential Turkey Pardon: A History Of Going Easy On One Bird Every Year

By | November 20, 2019

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George H.W Bush, the first president to officially pardon a turkey. (

Traditions offer interesting insights into the people and cultures who begat them. For instance, nothing explains George Costanza's father more aptly than his favorite holiday: Festivus. In the United States, we also observe a rather strange tradition around Thanksgiving time: the annual pardoning of a turkey by the President of the United States.

Unofficially, amnesty for the other-other white meat started with Honest Abe. Apparently, the lanky abolitionist saved the life of a turkey way back when because his son has grown fond of that particular fowl, and he himself was an avid bird lover. However, the official pardoning of Thanksgiving's centerpiece only dates back to the first Bush administration. Let's take a look at the relatively brief but definitely strange history of turkey pardons.

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Before President Bush, pardons weren't exactly pardons. (

A Publicity Pardon

After Lincoln's pardon, many presidents made a show of receiving their Thanksgiving bird. From Truman to Wilson, the commanders-in-chief of the past happily posed for pictures with their extremely temporary new pets, but none of the birds ever received an actual pardon. They all ended up on the First Dining Table, per custom.