The (Somewhat Dark) History of Presidential Turkey Pardoning

During this auspicious holiday weekend, I would like to say a few words about the deeply significant and heartfelt tradition of Thanksgiving Turkey pardoning.

Every year, the President of the United States officially grants a presidential pardon to the turkey fortunate enough to be selected as the National Thanksgiving Turkey. This tradition officially became an annual event during the Bush 41 administration. But its roots go all the way back to good ol' Abraham Lincoln.

Allegedly, Lincoln's favorite son Tad befriended the turkey fated to be Thanksgiving dinner and convinced Father Honest Abe to spare him. Lincoln, still guilt-tripping over a childhood incident where he shot a turkey, wrote the turkey an order of reprieve when Tad tearfully interrupted a cabinet meeting.

The first official National Thanksgiving Turkey was presented by members of the Poultry and Egg National Board to Harry Truman in 1947. According to some reports, they ate him. Nevertheless, this presentation became an annual event. Lots of yummy turkeys were devoured, except when President Kennedy spared the life of the turkey he was presented in 1963. The turkey was returned back to the farm from whence it came from.

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush announced, "This fine tom turkey has been granted a presidential pardon as of right now," inadvertently kicking off the official pardoning tradition that continues to this day.

So yes, a turkey gets spared and gets sent to live out the rest of it's days at Frying Pan Park in Virginia "“ or more recently, petting zoos at Disneyland and Disney World.

Of course, the President probably still eats turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. As Bill Clinton put it in 1999, "They bring me a big turkey and we let one go so we can eat all the others."

Not that it necessarily matters, since the turkeys who get pardoned don't live for very long anyway. According to The New York Times, "Whether the turkeys come from a shelter or the White House, they don't live very long. Most adopted turkeys are commercially bred broad-breasted whites, genetically disposed to grow to a marketable size in about four months. Even on a diet of only a couple of cups of turkey feed a day, they become obese. They usually develop leg problems, congestive heart failure and arthritis."

The presidentially pardoned turkeys are just too fat to live. They usually die within a year. In one case, a pardoned turkey died one day after it arrived at the farm. The only surviving turkey from past ceremonies is Biscuits (from 2004), and that turkey is too ill to be displayed to the public. Commercially bred turkeys are prone to getting heart attacks--some even keeled over when the Air Force was doing sound barrier testing. Most of the presidential turkeys can barely walk, so they keel over pretty quickly.

So, er, actually, it's not much of a pardon. Gobble Gobble!

Marissa Minna Lee is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com. Her last story was about guinea pigs.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
iStock
iStock

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
North America: East or West Coast?
iStock
iStock

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios