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Late in 1863 a live turkey was sent to the White House for the Lincoln family to feast on during the holidays. Tad Lincoln, age 10, quickly befriended the bird. Tad taught the turkey to follow him as he walked around the White House grounds. The turkey was named Jack, and Tad fed him as a pet. When the time neared to prepare the turkey for the Christmas meal, Tad burst into one of his father's Cabinet meetings. He was crying loudly.  Tad told his dad that Jack was about to be killed, and that he had obtained a temporary delay from the "executioner" so he could put Jack's case before the president. Tad said, "Jack must not be killed; it is wicked." President Lincoln replied, "Jack was sent here to be killed and eaten...I can't help it." Tad, still sobbing, said, "He's a good turkey, and I don't want him killed." Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States of America, paused in the midst of the Cabinet meeting. He took out a card, and on it he wrote an order of reprieve. Jack's life was to be spared, and Tad raced out of the Cabinet meeting to show the presidential order to the "executioner."

On Tuesday, November 8, 1864, Abraham Lincoln was elected to a second term as president. A special polling place had been set up right on the grounds of the White House especially for soldiers who chose to vote. Jack the turkey actually strutted in front of some of the soldiers and broke in line. Seeing this, the president looked at Tad and asked whether Jack would vote. "He is under age," was Tad's reply.

The "holiday turkey incident" may have revived youthful memories for the president. When young Abraham was about eight, a flock of wild turkeys approached the Lincolns' Indiana cabin. Thomas Lincoln, Abraham's dad, was not home so Abraham asked his mother if he might use his dad's gun. Nancy Hanks Lincoln gave permission, and Abraham shot and killed one of the turkeys. However, when the boy saw the beauty of the bird whose life was ended, he was very distraught. In Lincoln's own words, he never again "pulled the trigger on any larger game." Down deep Abraham was known to love animals generally. He treated them kindly.

Sources: The story of Lincoln shooting the turkey is on pp. 36-37 of Louis A. Warren's Lincoln's Youth Indiana Years Seven to Twenty One 1816-1830. The story of Jack is told in a footnote on page 225. Additional sources on the turkey pardon include p. 170 of Lincoln's Sons by Ruth Painter Randall and pp. 111-112 of Tad Lincoln: Mischief-Maker in the White House by John D. Weaver. The little story about whether or not Jack would vote came from p. 236 of Jean H. Baker's Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography.

President Bill Clinton told Jack's story to reporters on Wednesday, November 26, 1997. Clinton had spared a 60-pound turkey named Willis the day before Thanksgiving. During a 2001 turkey-pardoning ceremony, President George Bush related the story in which President Lincoln pardoned his son's turkey. In 2008 Bush pardoned two turkeys named Pumpkin and Pecan. In 2009 President Barack Obama granted a pardon to Courage, a 45-pound turkey. He also pardoned a second bird named Carolina. In 2010 Obama pardoned two 45-pound turkeys, one named Apple and the other named Cider. In 2011 Obama pardoned turkeys named Liberty and Peace. In 2012 the President pardoned Cobbler and Gobbler. In 2013 Obama pardoned Popcorn and Caramel. In 2014 Obama pardoned Mac and Cheese. In 2015 the President pardoned Honest and Abe. In 2016 Obama pardoned Tater and Tot. In 2017 President Trump pardoned a turkey named Drumstick.

Abraham Lincoln issued nine separate proclamations of fasting, prayer, or thanksgiving.

For many more stories about the Lincoln boys and life in the White House during the Civil War please see the captivating and beautiful book entitled Mr. Lincoln's Boys written by Staton Rabin with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline. The book is written for younger readers. If you would like to consider purchasing the book please CLICK HERE.

Also, in 2008 Ellen Jackson's Abe Lincoln Loved Animals was published. Ellen's attractive book is non-fiction, and it's intended for young readers. The book is about the animals in Abraham Lincoln's life and is beautifully illustrated by Doris Ettlinger. If you are interested in purchasing Abe Lincoln Loved Animals please CLICK HERE.

The sketch at the top of the page is the work of James Warner. James Warner lives in Cadillac, Michigan and enjoys illustrating, woodcarving and antique collecting. To contact Mr. Warner for artwork please call (231) 577-4207 or send e-mails to: jameltrib@yahoo.com. Please type "Lincoln" in the subject line of your e-mail. Mr. Warner always enjoys hearing from people. However, all mail without the name "Lincoln" in the subject line will NOT be answered. Sorry for the inconvenience. ARTWORK NOT TO BE REPRODUCED FOR USE ON ANY OTHER SITE WITHOUT PERMISSION!


Abraham Lincoln and the Three Kittens

Fido - the Lincolns' Dog

Tad and Willie Lincoln Kept Goats Inside the White House

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