Why Does the President Pardon Turkeys?
Should the president continue to pardon turkeys?
by Causes | 11.26.19
What’s the story?
- President Donald Trump on Tuesday participated in the annual White House turkey pardon, granting a reprieve to Bread and Butter.
"Today. I will issue a pardon to a pair of very handsome birds: Butter and his alternate Bread."
- The president also worked in a jab about the House impeachment inquiry, telling the audience:
"Bread and Butter were raised in the Tar Heel State by farmer Wellie Jackson... Thankfully, Bread and Butter have been specially raised by the Jacksons to remain calm under any conditions. Which will be very important because they've already received subpoenas to appear in Adam Schiff's basement on Thursday. It's true. It seems the Democrats are accusing me of being too soft on turkey."
Why do presidents pardon turkeys?
- According to the White House Historical Association, Abraham Lincoln was the first president to pardon a turkey, although the tradition didn’t start until much later in U.S. history. Apparently, someone brought a live turkey to the Lincoln White House for Christmas in 1863, but Lincoln’s son Tad was so horrified by the idea of killing and eating the bird that Honest Abe decided to spare the bird’s life.
- Beginning in the 1873, "Poultry King" Horace Vose sent turkeys to the White House every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas for the First Family to enjoy until his death in 1913. But the Vose turkeys, which the WHHA notes “never weighed fewer than 30 pounds and sometimes topped the scales at 50 pounds,” were already “slaughtered and dressed.”
- It wasn’t until Harry S. Truman took office that uneaten turkeys became a tradition at the White House. In the wake of World War II, Truman had instituted an unofficial set of food-saving policies to help the U.S. and Europe recover from the war, including "Meatless Tuesdays," “Eggless Mondays” and, yes, “Poultryless Thursdays.” The latter infuriated the poultry lobby in the U.S. and farmers started sending birds to the White House in protest. Many pin the origins of the turkey pardon to a gobbler sent to Truman for Christmas, 1947, just after he ended the policy.
- But the Truman library argues that he never actually pardoned the turkey, he just took a photo with one. Truman apparently even joked at the time that he could send it home to his family in Missouri where it would feed 25 of his relatives, according to CBS News.
- From President John F. Kennedy forward, presidents have held similar photo-ops with donated live turkeys every year. But it wasn’t until George H.W. Bush took office in 1989 that the term "pardon" was used and the tradition was truly hatched.
- Now, two turkeys are sent to the White House annually, with one chosen as the official turkey to be pardoned. President Obama was the first president to pardon both turkeys when he took office in 2009, after some pleading by his daughters Sasha and Malia.
What will happen to Bread and Butter?
- Peas and Carrots will peck away their remaining days at Virginia Tech’s “Gobbler’s Rest” in Blacksburg, Virginia, where the duo will be cared for by veterinarians at the school’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
—Josh Herman & Sarah Mimms
(Screenshot from the White House's YouTube channel)
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