Though the modern tradition of an American president officially pardoning a turkey at Thanksgiving began with George H. W. Bush in 1989, the idea is believed to have originated with Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln’s pardoned turkey was actually gifted to the First Family in 1863, just a month after the president declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. Though meant to be Christmas dinner that year, the turkey was quickly adopted by Tad Lincoln, the president’s 10-year-old son. Tad named the bird Jack and trained it to follow him all over the White House. When the time came to slaughter and eat Jack, Tad begged his father to spare the creature’s life. Lincoln, ever indulgent of his youngest child, wrote a note “pardoning” Jack and gave it to Tad, who showed it to the head chef, thus granting a reprieve for the beloved pet.
In 2005, as part of a riverfront revitalization effort in downtown Hartford, the Lincoln Financial Group sponsored 16 sculptures along the Connecticut River. The series commemorates the life and achievements of the insurance and investment company’s namesake. Among the sculptures is a stylized depiction of Jack designed by New York artist Philip Grausman.