The history of the White House turkey pardon
Gerald Ford didn't do it. Neither did Richard Nixon
Wait until after Thanksgiving to be a grinch and, for now at least, fully embrace the beautiful American tradition that is the White House turkey pardon.
Rumors of turkey pardons go back as far as the Lincoln administration, when the president’s young son supposedly begged his father to spare a pet turkey that was destined for the dinner table.
But the turkey pardon as we know it today has its roots in the mid-20th century. The National Turkey Federation has been the official turkey supplier to the First Family since 1947, when President Harry Truman accepted the feathered sacrifice. He did not, however, show the bird mercy.
The first documented turkey pardon was given by President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
The pardoning didn’t catch on, however. President Gerald Ford saw fit to pardon President Richard Nixon, but neither one of them saw fit to officially spare their turkeys.
According to the White House, it wasn’t until 1989 that pardoning resurfaced as part of the turkey presentation. That year, President George H.W. Bush started what became a tradition upheld by every president since.
Two turkeys, named Tom One and Tom Two, vied for Wednesday’s honors. On Tuesday, they were given the ceremonial names Honest and Abe, perhaps an homage to the original story of the turkey pardoning. The names were chosen by California school children.
The White House gave the public an opportunity to vote on which turkey would hold the official title. President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that Abe came out on top. “He is TOTUS - Turkey of the United States,” the president decreed.
He pardoned Honest as well, saying he’s second “in the TOTUS line of succession.”
“I confess that Honest looks like good eating, but this is a democracy,” Obama said.
The White House release on the turkeys lists their favorite music as country, although they each have a unique “strut style.” Honest prefers “Skoots in Boots” and Abe is more of a “Macho Man.”
Pardoned birds have been sent to live out their lives at various locations, including petting zoos and Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. This year’s turkey will be sent to a farm in Virginia when he gets his expected pardon from President Barack Obama.
Unfortunately, pardoned birds haven’t been long for this world. Modern turkeys are bred to be eaten, not to survive. During the Obama administration, every turkey he has pardoned has died before seeing one of its feathered brethren pardoned the following year. But, at the holidays more than any other time of year, it’s the thought that counts.