Washington, D.C. - What's the story behind the presidential turkey pardon?

  • Clemency to a turkey dates back to Lincoln Administration
  • Turkey Pardons officially began in Bush 41 Administration
  • White House has received gift turkeys for more than 100 years

You'd be surprised; it's a relatively young tradition.



According to the White House Historical Association, President Lincoln did it for the First Family's Christmas dinner in 1863.

A hundred years after Mr. Lincoln, President Kennedy spared a Thanksgiving bird in 1963.

The next day, a Los Angeles Times headline read "Turkey gets presidential pardon."

Other presidents after JFK would continue in sparing the bird's life.

But it was in 1987 when President Reagan used the word "pardon."

He wasn't referring to the turkey, but former aides caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal.



Officially in 1989, President George H.W. Bush made a proclamation, "Let me assure you, and this fine Tom Turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table,” said Mr. Bush, 41.  “He's granted a presidential pardon"

So where does Mr. Truman's story come from?

“Now this marks the 50th year when we give one more turkey in Washington a second chance,” said President Bill Clinton in 1997. “President Truman was the first president to pardon a turkey."

Mr. Truman did receive a turkey from the National Turkey Federation in 1947.

It likely ended up on the dinner table.

The Truman Presidential Library would go on to clarify the record or correct President Clinton's version of history.

Although, everyone gets a pardon for making that mistake.