Harry Truman is often credited with being the first US President to forgive a Thanksgiving turkey.
While Truman was the first to receive a ceremonial turkey from the president of the National Federation of Turkey, the Truman Library said there was no evidence that he had pardoned the bird. The turkey presented to Truman in 1947 more than likely ended up on the White House dinner table.
Some versions of the turkey forgiveness story date back to 1863 under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. According to the White House Historical Association, Lincoln’s son Tad particularly liked a turkey that was meant to be cooked for Christmas, not Thanksgiving dinner.
White House reporter Noah Brooks later wrote in 1865 that a live turkey was brought home for Christmas dinner, but [Lincolns son Tad] interceded for his life … [Tads] the plea was admitted and the lives of the turkeys spared.
Regarding Thanksgiving turkeys, President John F. Kennedy was the first to pardon a bird sent for dinner.
After being handed a turkey with a sign saying “Good Eat, Mr. President,” Kennedy responded by saying, “We’re just going to let this one grow.” It was the LA Times that called the act a “presidential pardon.”
In 1987, Ronald Reagan was the first president to use the word “forgiveness” when presenting the annual Thanksgiving turkey, according to NPR. George HW Bush later made the action a formal event.
Here’s a look at three decades of Turkey’s presidential pardons in photos:
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