Pardon the Pair

Tater & Tot. Biscuits & Gravy. Apple & Cider. Liberty & Freedom. Gobbler & Cobbler. Peas & Carrots. May & Flower. Stars & Stripes.

What do the above pairs all have in common?

(Hint- think Waldo!)

Give up? They’re just some of the names of the turkeys presidentially “pardoned”. (see here for more names).

“Wait!” You groan. “Turkey Pardons? Are you pulling my turkey leg? Isn’t this a legal blog?”

Ha! Welcome to the Thanksgiving Version of Legal Briefs!

In my defense, it’s not that much of a stretch (she said with grin). Pardons are actual legal tools, even though they are often also controversial. And yes, a real pardon in the real world requires an actual conviction and a human (among other things), but let’s not overthink this. After all, we aren’t actually applying to DOJ for one. Let’s just say a pardon is a pardon and get on with it.

History of the Presidential Turkey, 1863- 1962

Tad & Abe Lincoln….and Jack?

The first recorded “pardon” of a turkey was back in 1863 when President Lincoln’s spirited son Tad, a devoted animal lover, took a liking to the gobbler who was meant for the, uh, holiday festivities. After presenting his case to his dad that the turkey he’d named “Jack” was a good soul who had the right to be spared, Lincoln acquiesced and granted Jack clemency on his son’s behalf.

The next chapter in this turkey-President saga involved a Rhode Island farmer named Horace Vose who, from 1873 to his death in 1913, sent his best Tom each year to the White House. Unfortunately, the fate of these famed warblers is unknown, but there doesn’t appear to be any stories of pardons, reprieves, or stays (sorry Waldo). After Vose’s death, any citizen could present an annual turkey to the President. Groups from the Girl Scouts to the American Legion participated. It appears “turkey clemency” was also not a practice during this time.

In 1947, President Truman established the official annual presentation of the turkey(s) which continues to the present day. This event was initially an appeasement to the poultry industry due to some of Truman’s policies. As such, and contrary to some renditions, there was no policy regarding turkey pardons.

Sparing the Presentation Turkey(s) Becomes the Custom

However, in 1963, President Kennedy chose to spare the presentation turkey. Although not official, the practice to send the turkeys to nearby farms and refuges gained momentum under Nixon and Carter. Finally, the “sparing and retiring” practice was solidified under President Reagan who also turned the annual turkey presentation into a more lighthearted satirical media event.

The Official turkey pardon started with President George H.W. Bush in 1989 who “granted” a presidential pardon by letting the proud bird live out his days at a nearby farm. Since then, every presentation turkey pair has been given a reprieve and sent to live at zoos, farms, refuges, or shelters. Waldo would definitely approve!

For more in depth information on this peculiar part of US “Legal” History, please follow the links above as well as here.

If you would like to know more about Waldo and how he earned his own “Pardon”, he’s on Amazon.

Waldo and I wish you a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving with the hope that you find Home in your heart wherever this year finds you!




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