Thanksgiving 2012: How the Turkey Pardon Became a Presidential Tradition


Every Thanksgiving, American families will come together to share an amazing home-cooked meal, great laughs, and much-needed rest and relaxation. Thanksgiving meals have been shared among families and friends since the Indians were nice enough to help the English newcomers in 1621. It wasn’t until 1863 that President Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in November.

Whether the prepared meal is as full as a buffet or only consists of a few items, everyone knows that the turkey is the main event of Thanksgiving Day. Every year, millions of turkeys will end up on someone’s family table. Though Thanksgiving is a pretty bad time of year to be a turkey, at last two turkeys lives will be spared by the president of the United States. It’s time to take a look at the history of the Annual Presidential Turkey Pardon that has saved the lives of quite a few toms.

Beginning in 1873 and continuing for at least 25 years, a nice man from Rhode Island named Horace Vose took it upon himself to handpick the turkey that the president would feast on at holiday time. In 1947, the National Turkey Federation, or NFT, took on the responsibility of being the official turkey supplier for the White House.

Though the official pardoning tradition didn’t begin until 1989 with Bush Sr.’s administration, not every presidential turkey made it to the White House table. There’s a tale involving President Lincoln, his son Tad, and a Christmas turkey that hasn’t quite been proven truthful, but very well may be. The story goes that Tad had grown fond of the turkey due to be slaughtered at Christmas for the holiday meal. He begged and pleaded with his father to pardon the turkey from his horrible fate, stating that the turkey had as much a right to life as anyone else. After thinking it over, President Lincoln unofficially pardoned the turkey from being the main event of the presidential feast.

In 1948, President Truman decided to give his gift turkey from the NFT to his relatives in Independence, Missouri. Kennedy decided to send his 1963 presidential turkey back to the farm to grow some more. None of these pardons were official, but it’s clear that these turkeys dodged a huge bullet.

Since President Obama’s first Thanksgiving pardon in 2009, he has had the pleasure of giving six turkeys their lives back. Every year, daughters Malia and Sasha accompany him as he hands out his official pardons to two thankful toms. In 2009, President Obama and the girls gave Courage and his understudy Carolina a free pass to live the rest of their days in peace and tranquility. The 2010 pardon gave Apple and his understudy Cider a new lease on life, while President Obama and the girls allowed Liberty and his understudy Peace to retire stress-free in 2011. The 2012 pardon will add two more names to that list. Once these turkeys are pardoned, they will live the good life until they are called to turkey heaven.

It’s understood that Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our lives and to give thanks for what we are blessed with as opposed to wallowing in what we lack. We shouldn’t wait until November to share love, food, or other blessings with those around us. Whether you have more than enough or you’re struggling to make ends meet, you should be thankful for the life you do have because things can always be worse. I encourage every reader to uplift someone else around them. It can be a family member, a friend, or a complete stranger. You never know what someone else is going through, but your act of kindness could make all the difference.

Happy Thanksgiving, America!