If you are not an American reader, you may not be aware that every year on Thanksgiving, the president ‘pardons’ a turkey.
The turkey is given to him by the National Turkey Federation, and has been since 1947. Legend states that President Truman was the first president to pardon a turkey-stating that in 1947 he refused to eat the bird and instead ‘pardoned’ it from its holiday induced trauma. However, there is no evidence in the Truman Library of this having ever occured. Likewise, there is folklore stretching back to Abraham Lincoln having begged for the life of a turkey.
In 1963 JFK was presented a turkey by the California Turkey Advisory Board, and likewise, he refused to consume the bird. However, he also didn’t use the word ‘pardon’-but the media did. This became the first time that the connection between turkey pardoning and the presidents actually became fully documented even if Kennedy never used the ‘p’ word.
Reagan was the next president to be connected with turkey pardoning-but it appears to be a misremembering of how the turkey tradition played out. Reagan was in the Rose Garden with that year’s turkey and was asked about the Iran Contraband Scandal, wherein he joked that if the turkey wasn’t already going to a petting zoo he would have pardoned the bird.
The tradition as many Americans are familiar with it seems to have started with Bush, Sr. in 1989. He was the first president to outright state that he would pardon the bird if it wasn’t for the fact the tom was going to live out the rest of its days on a farm near Washington DC.
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