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Presidential Turkey Pardons

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The practice of the U.S. President formally pardoning a turkey or turkeys for Thanksgiving goes back only so far as 1989, officially. In that year, President George Bush issued a federal pardon for a turkey, so that the bird could live out the rest of its life without being carved up for someone's Thanksgiving meal.

Each year since 1989, the President has made a media event out of pardoning a turkey (or sometimes two). It's usually one of a number of Thanksgiving stories that make the news.

The first President to so spare a turkey was President Abraham Lincoln, who asked that White House staff not carve up a particular turkey of which Lincoln's son Tad had become fond. Tad, who was 10 in 1863, kept agitating until his father relented and the turkey was not part of the holiday meal. That was Christmas, though, not Thanksgiving. Tad went on to adopt the turkey and name it Jack. Jack followed Tad around the White House grounds.

A century later, President John F. Kennedy refused to have killed a turkey sent to him as a gift. This was merely a gesture, though, and not an official pardon.

The National Turkey Federation chairman has sent a turkey as a gift to the President every year since 1947. For 40 years, though, more often than not, the turkey ended up on the presidential dining table.



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