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The History of the Turkey Pardon in D.C.
November 2, 2020

The History of the Turkey Pardon in D.C.

by The CE Shop Team

Learn Which Protector of Poultry Started the Turkey Pardon in D.C.

The turkey pardon has only recently been made an annual event, and it’s captured the attention of the nation. The peace pact between the White House and one lucky Tom Turkey each November is wholesome, but there’s debate on who started the tradition.

Abraham Lincoln was technically the first president to give a gobbler the POTUS pardon when he was presented a turkey months before the holiday season for Christmas Dinner in 1863. Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, an animal lover to his core, was quick to name the turkey and adopt him as a pet. Now named Jack, the turkey was known for following behind the boy as he stomped around the White House.

Since Lincoln, there were a number of presidents who did not pardon their turkeys. JFK revived the idea by publicly pardoning a turkey every year during the holidays. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the turkey pardon became the law of the land. President George H.W. Bush was the first President to make the pardoning of these thunder chickens official when he began his presidency in 1989.

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The Turkey’s Cultural Significance

Strangely enough, the turkey has been one of the most seen but overlooked national icons to date. For an animal that isn’t so easy on the eyes, yet so heavily revered in American culture, it’s not often granted a second thought. The history behind this bird is remarkable and certainly makes a case for changing America’s national bird.

After America was colonized and large scale settlements began sweeping west, turkey populations were nearly decimated. Turkeys are native to the Americas and have been evolving here for over 20 million years. When debating the design of the national seal, Benjamin Franklin famously said,“The turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird [than the bald eagle], and with a true original Native of America… [It’s] a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

While we don’t necessarily have to worry about British Guards in 2020, the turkey is still known for its willingness to defend its territory. That said, this bird that we honor and anticipate every fall almost lost its place in our country altogether. With great efforts from turkey-focused organizations, America is keeping a watchful eye on wild turkey populations, and their symbolism continues to ring as bright and bold as their heads.

Despite its hit-or-miss beginnings, the tradition of the turkey pardon has lasted generations in our country. Its appeal to the masses has only recently struck a lasting cord, but one thing that's certain is that the turkeys (or at least one per year) have been rejoicing since 1989.

For those of you wanting to see these majestic birds in the wild, you’re in luck as you don’t have to venture far. Throughout Washington D.C., wildlife encounters have been reported with increasing frequency since coronavirus stay-at-home orders have been put into place. With fewer commuters and less foot traffic, local animals have been taking advantage of the extra space.

“Since we’re not on our roadways or not out in our neighborhood as much, the wildlife is starting to move into them,” said Dan Rauch, fisheries and wildlife biologist for the D.C. Department of Energy and the Environment, said in an interview with WTOP News.

Now, if we were some of these lucky few turkeys given the famous pardon, where would we live in D.C.? Surprisingly, there are some green spaces where wildlife can rest and relax in this political powerhouse. Rock Creek Park has some great real estate options that puts the park right in your backyard. With home values ranging between $350,000 to $2,000,000, there are plenty of options to house your whole flock.

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