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Tad and the Turkey

Turkey Pardon

Stories cluster about Lincoln like barnacles on a great ship. Many of them cannot be sourced at all and have to be consigned to legend. One such story that is probably just a legend is that of Tad and the Turkey. The White House in 1863 received the gift of a live turkey that was to be fattened up for an eventual White House dinner. Tad grew fond of the bird, named him Jack and eventually begged his father for the Turkey’s life. Lincoln was reluctant at first, noting that the Turkey had been given as a gift for the table and not as a pet. Tad’s pleas however eventually caused Lincoln to give the Turkey a presidential pardon.

Like all good legends this story has the participants behaving in character: Tad always did have a menagerie of pets in the White House, and Lincoln was soft-hearted about animals and was a fairly indulgent father. A sequel to the story had Jack the Turkey stepping to the front of a line of soldiers waiting to vote at a polling place set up at a White House. Then Lincoln is supposed to have inquired of his son if Jack was going to vote. Tad solemnly responded that Jack could not vote due to his being too young.

Legends can fun so long as we do not confuse them with History.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

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