The Origins of the Presidential Turkey Pardon

This year President Obama will offer his presidential pardon to two robust turkeys this year, in keeping with tradition of the presidents before him. The two turkeys this year were chosen from over 100 candidates as the National Thanksgiving Turkey. Liberty, a 19-week-old, 45-pound turkey won the honors, and similarly sized Peace won as the alternate. The two turkeys originally hail from Willmar, Minnesota, and will be driven out to Mount Vernon Estates and Gardens where they will be displayed to visitors until January 6th.

The announcement will officially be made from the Rose Garden, on the 64th anniversary of the national Thanksgiving presentation. The tradition of pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey was formalized by President George H. W. Bush in 1989, but it had been practiced for many years beforehand. According to the White House website, Twenty-two turkeys have been pardoned so far and the tradition dates back to 1873 under Grant’s presidency when a Rhode Island man named Horace Vose we given responsibility for selecting the “noblest gobbler in all that little state” for the President’s Thanksgiving dinner.

In 1947, the National Turkey Federation took the responsibility of supplying turkey to the Presidents, and delivered a 47-pound turkey for Christmas. The same year the White House began a ceremony for receiving the turkey in the Rose Garden, though the turkeys in this ceremony usually ended up being dinner. As to when the first turkey was pardoned, the facts remain unclear. Some say turkeys were spared while Lincoln was president, after his son begged him to write a pardon for the bird meant to be their Christmas dinner.

In 1963, President Kennedy sent the National Turkey Federation’s turkey gift back to the farm where it was raised, saying “We’ll just let this one grow.” Around the time of the Nixon administration, the President began sending the annual turkey to a petting farm after the traditional receiving ceremony. Finally in 1989, President George H. W. Bush offered the first official pardon, announcing the bird had “been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”

President Obama has already pardoned two turkeys, though he admitted that 2009’s Courage came dangerously close to the White House table. He later noted that “Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson actually ate their turkeys. You can’t fault them for that; that’s a good looking bird.”

DailyFoodtoEat is the official blog of FoodtoEat, a sustainable online food ordering and concierge catering service featuring your favorite restaurants, food trucks and caterers. Check out the deliciousness here:

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