So, I tried to come up with a topic that related to the law and Thanksgiving. This was not an easy task, but here's what I came up with. It's kinda close ... (Disclaimer: This is meant to be comical and to lighten the mood this holiday season.)

Every year on Thanksgiving, the President of the United States will pardon a turkey, meaning it won't ever be served up for dinner. This made me think of two things, what is a presidential pardon and what is up with this tradition of saving our feathered friend.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I discuss presidential pardons and yes, turkeys.


Let's first start on why we eat turkey for Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving is considered to have happened in 1621 by the Pilgrims of Plymouth. It is unclear if an actual turkey was the main course. From documentation of that day, all that is mentioned is that the bird that was served up was “wild fowl” for the meal. This was more than likely ducks or geese.

The belief for eating turkey rather than, say, chicken at a feast like Thanksgiving would be that the bird is large enough to feed an entire hungry family. Unlike chickens or cows, they didn’t serve a second purpose like laying eggs or making milk. Unlike pork, turkey wasn’t so common that it didn’t seem like a suitable choice for a special occasion, either.

A second theory is believed to be that colonists had hunted wild turkeys during the autumn of 1621 and since turkey is a uniquely American bird, it gained traction as the Thanksgiving meal of choice for Americans after Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

A side note, Benjamin Franklin wanted the national bird to be a turkey, rather than the bald eagle.


On a federal level, a pardon is the action of the President that completely sets aside the punishment for a federal crime. The president's pardon power is limited to federal offenses because the Constitution only grants the president the power to pardon offenses against the United States.

On the state level, the governors of most states have the power to grant pardons for offenses under state criminal law. In some states, that power is given to an appointed agency or board, or to a board and the governor in some hybrid arrangement.

The official "pardoning" of White House turkeys is an interesting tradition. It is often stated that President Lincoln's 1863 clemency to a turkey was the origin for the pardoning ceremony. Presidents have been consistently pardoning turkeys ever since President Truman in 1947, but it wasn't an official tradition until 1989, when President George H.W. Bush made it a permanent staple in the Thanksgiving tradition.

So, it wasn't because the turkey committed a bank robbery, kidnapping or act of treason.


As the act of pardoning a turkey seems to be a good thing, it appears however there has been a curse to some of the turkeys following this pardon. (Some excerpts below are taken from

• "Stars" was pardoned in 2003, and died the day after he arrived at his new home: After being Pardoned by President George W. Bush, Stars died the day after he arrived at Frying Pan Park in Virginia.

• "Biscuits" was pardoned in 2004, but death was already on the way: Biscuits, the tastiest sounding of the presidential turkeys, was already too weak to stand by January 2005, and died from exposure later that year.

• "Cider" was pardoned in 2010, but developed a respiratory infection soon after and died: After being pardoned, Cider the turkey developed a respiratory infection, and then a foot disorder that made it hard for him to walk. Cider had to be put down before he was able to see next year's Thanksgivng. His buddy Apple succumbed to the same fate shortly afterwards.

• "Peace" was pardoned in 2011, but died of a mysterious illness in 2012: Following a week long mysterious illness in 2012, Peace was put out of her misery at the Mount Vernon Estate.

• "Liberty" was pardoned in 2011, only to die of heart failure in 2013: This is actually the second turkey named Liberty to be pardoned before dying of heart failure.

• "Gobbler" was pardoned in 2012, but died suddenly in 2013: Gobbler, a turkey who reportedly had an ironic love of cranberries, died suddenly in 2013. Gobbler's handler described him as, "a patient but proud bird."

• "Cobbler" was pardoned in 2012, only to be euthanized in 2013: Cobbler died the same year as his pardon buddy, Gobbler. Although he lived significantly longer (six months), he was euthanized in August 2013 — presumably to be eaten.

• "Popcorn" was pardoned in 2013, but died of heatstroke in summer 2014: During the hot, hot summer of 2014, Popcorn the turkey died of heat stroke while working on his tan at Morven Park, Virginia.

In closing, I hope you and your family have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

— This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you may always email me your questions to