Presidential Turkey Pardoning

Every November you probably see it on the news. The President of the United States pardons a Turkey. It’s a ritual that’s kind of funny and totally bizarre. You might be wondering how this whole thing got started. Well, we were too. So, we looked into it.

The Beginning

The origin of presidential turkey pardoning dates back to the 19th century. As legend goes, in 1863, Tad Lincoln begged his father, President Abraham Lincoln, to spare the life of the turkey that was to be the ‘guest of honor’ for Christmas dinner.

The Turkey Gifts that Keep On Giving

Over the years, turkeys had been presented as gifts to the president from the citizenry. But beginning in 1873, an enterprising Horace Vose—a turkey farmer dubbed “Poultry King” by his contemporaries—began sending large turkeys to the White House each holiday season. He got a lot of free press from it and continued this tradition of turkey gifting until his passing in 1913. Some of those turkeys may have escaped the Thanksgiving dinner plate, but not all of them. Either way, it still wasn’t the pardoning tradition as we know it today.

Things Get A Bit More Official

The practice of presenting a turkey to the President officially began in 1947. But Presidential Turkey Pardons were given only intermittently for decades, and in fact most were eaten.

Finally, in 1989 under President H. W. Bush, turkey pardoning became a formal White House tradition.

Where Do the Turkeys Go?

The birds granted clemency are often sent to children’s farms to live out the rest of their days free from the fear of becoming a holiday dinner.

Unsurprisingly, since the early 80s, the presentation of a turkey and subsequent pardoning has become a source of good humor and good press for Presidents, the White House staff, and the White House Press Corps.

So when you’re considering Thanksgiving traditions of your own, remember that this all started with a boy, a turkey, and a father, who just happened to be the 16th President of the United States of America.

And if you need a pardon from cooking, or even if you just need a reprieve from Thanksgiving leftovers, stop by your local Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and mix things up with our Grilled Tilapia and Shrimp with Mango Salsa.

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