10 Ways The History Of Thanksgiving Is Nothing Like You Imagined

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2. Lincoln’s Son Begged For The First Turkey’s Life

Photo credit: Alexander Gardner

The tradition of having the president pardon a turkey on Thanksgiving started on the very first year of the holiday—and it all came out of the sympathy of a ten-year-old boy.

The Lincolns had a live turkey sent to the White House for their dinner in 1863. Lincoln’s young son Tad got the chance to see the animal that would be soon be killed, fried up, and placed on his dinner table, and when he realized what was going to happen, he became terrified. He begged his father not to kill the turkey, telling him that it had “as good a right to live as anybody else.” The president was touched. He agreed, and the White House brought in a new pet turkey.

The tradition didn’t exactly catch on right away, though. The presidents who followed didn’t really share Lincoln’s sentimentality. They followed his tradition of having live turkeys sent to White House and sometimes posed for pictures with them—but they went ahead and killed and ate them anyway.

It took until 1963 before JFK became the first president since Lincoln to let the turkey live—exactly 100 years after Tad Lincoln had saved the White House’s first Thanksgiving turkey.[9] JFK was assassinated three days later.

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