Category Archives: presidential pardon

The Definitive History of the Presidential Turkey Pardon

Posted From The White House Blog

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Each Thanksgiving, the President “pardons” a hand-selected turkey, sparing the bird from someone’s dinner table and ensuring the rest of its days are spent roaming on a farm, doing whatever it is turkeys love to do. Twenty-two turkeys have been pardoned, and today, President Obama will pardon one more.

You’re probably wondering: Where did this very serious business of the Presidential turkey pardon come from anyway?

Americans have been sending the President turkeys for the holidays since at least the 19th century. Beginning in 1873 during Grant’s presidency, a Rhode Island man named Horace Vose was responsible for “selecting with the utmost care” the “noblest gobbler in all that little state” for the President’s Thanksgiving dinner, a tradition he carried out for more than 25 years according to The New York Times. In 1947, the National Turkey Federation took on the role of official turkey supplier to the President, delivering a 47-pound bird in time for the Christmas holiday.

That year, the White House also began holding a turkey receiving ceremony, usually in the Rose Garden, providing a photo op that many confuse with the beginning of the pardoning tradition. Back then, however, birds were more likely to be destined for the White House dining table than the easy life on a farm. In 1948, President Truman said he would take the gifted turkey home to Independence, Missouri, where his 25 relatives “require a lot.”

So then when did the pardoning start? Here’s where it gets tricky. Tales of spared turkeys date back to the Lincoln days. According to one story, Lincoln’s son Tad begged his father to write out a presidential pardon for the bird meant for the family’s Christmas table, arguing it had as much a right to live as anyone. Lincoln acquiesced and the turkey lived.

In 1963, President Kennedy decided to send that year’s gift from the National Turkey Federation back to the farm where it came from. “We’ll just let this one grow,” he said. Sometime around the Nixon administration, the President began sending the turkey to a petting farm near Washington after holding the traditional receiving ceremony and photo op, although no formal pardon was given.

President George H.W. Bush was the first to actually offer a turkey pardon. On November 14, 1989, he announced that year’s bird had “been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.” He sent the turkey on his way to the perhaps unfortunately named Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Virginia, and with that, a tradition was born.

Since taking office, President Obama has pardoned two turkeys, although in 2009, he admitted Courage, that year’s top turkey, came dangerously close to gracing the White House table. “Thanks to the intervention of Malia and Sasha – because I was ready to eat this sucker – Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate.”

“I’m told Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson actually ate their turkeys,” Obama said. “You can’t fault them for that; that’s a good-looking bird.”

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Filed under President Kennedy, President Obama, presidential pardon, Thanksgiving, Turkey Pardon, Ulysses S. Grant

Remarks by the President on Pardoning of the National Turkey

The White House
For Immediate Release
November 25, 2009

North Portico

THE PRESIDENT: Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Welcome to the White House. On behalf of Sasha and Malia and myself, we’re thrilled to see you. I want to thank Walter Pelletier, chairman of the National Turkey Federation, and Joel Brandenberger, its president, for donating this year’s turkey. His name is “Courage,” and he traveled here from Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he was raised under Walter’s own precious care.

(Turkey gobbles.)

THE PRESIDENT: There you go. (Laughter.)

Now, the National Turkey Federation has been bringing its finest turkeys to the White House for more than 50 years. I’m told Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson actually ate their turkeys. You can’t fault them for that; that’s a good-looking bird. (Laughter.) President Kennedy was even given a turkey with a sign around its neck that said, “Good Eatin’, Mr. President.” But he showed mercy and he said, “Let’s keep him going.” And 20 years ago this Thanksgiving, the first President Bush issued the first official presidential pardon for a turkey.

Today, I am pleased to announce that thanks to the interventions of Malia and Sasha — because I was planning to eat this sucker — (laughter) — “Courage” will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate. Later today, he’ll head to Disneyland, where he’ll be grand marshal of tomorrow’s parade. And just in case “Courage” can’t fulfill his responsibilities, Walter brought along another turkey, “Carolina,” as an alternate, the stand-in.

Now, later this afternoon, Michelle, Malia, Sasha and I will take two of their less fortunate brethren to Martha’s Table, an organization that does extraordinary work to help folks here in D.C. who need it the most. And I want to thank Jaindl’s Turkey Farm in Orefield, Pennsylvania, for donating those dressed birds for dinner. So today, all told, I believe it’s fair to say that we have saved or created four turkeys. (Laughter.)

You know, there are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office. And then there are moments like this — (laughter) — where I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland. (Laughter.) But every single day, I am thankful for the extraordinary responsibility that the American people have placed in me. I am humbled by the privilege that it is to serve them, and the tremendous honor it is to serve as Commander-in-Chief of the finest military in the world — and I want to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to every service member at home or in harm’s way. We’re proud of you and we are thinking of you and we’re praying for you.

When my family and I sit around the table tomorrow, just like millions of other families across America, we’ll take time to give our thanks for many blessings. But we’ll also remember this is a time when so many members of our American family are hurting. There’s no question this has been a tough year for America. We’re at war. Our economy is emerging from an extraordinary recession into recovery. But there’s a long way to go and a lot of work to do.

In more tranquil times, it’s easy to notice our many blessings. It’s even easier to take them for granted. But in times like these, they resonate a bit more powerfully. When President Lincoln set aside the National Day of Thanksgiving for the first time — to celebrate America’s “fruitful fields,” “healthful skies,” and the “strength and vigor” of the American people — it was in the midst of the Civil War, just when the future of our very union was most in doubt. So think about that. When times were darkest, President Lincoln understood that our American blessings shined brighter than ever.

This is an era of new perils and new hardships. But we are, as ever, a people of endless compassion, boundless ingenuity, limitless strength. We’re the heirs to a hard-earned history and stewards of a land of God-given beauty. We are Americans. And for all this, we give our humble thanks — to our predecessors, to one another, and to God.

So on this quintessentially American holiday, as we give thanks for what we’ve got, let’s also give back to those who are less fortunate. As we give thanks for our loved ones, let us remember those who can’t be with us. And as we give thanks for our security, let’s in turn thank those who’ve sacrificed to make it possible, wherever they may be.

Now, before this turkey gets too nervous that Bo will escape and screw up this pardon — (laughter) — or before I change my mind, I hereby pardon “Courage” so that he can live out the rest of his days in peace and tranquility in Disneyland.

And to every American, I want to wish you, on behalf of myself, Malia, Sasha, and Michelle, the happiest of Thanksgivings. Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)

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Filed under President Obama, presidential pardon, Turkey Pardon

Bush Pardons Scooter Libby In Giant Turkey Suit

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Filed under President Bush, presidential pardon, Scooter Libby, Thanksgiving, the Onion

Bush Pardons Scooter Libby In Giant Turkey Suit

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Filed under President Bush, presidential pardon, Scooter Libby, Thanksgiving, the Onion