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Pardon and Liberty: A Presidential Feather in the Cap for Turkeys 'Bell' and 'Fowl'

In a lighthearted ceremony on the White House South Lawn, President Joe Biden spared turkeys Liberty and Bell from the "fowl" fate of becoming Thanksgiving dinner this year. Weighing in at 42.5 and 42.1 pounds, respectively, these feathered friends, hailing from Willmar, Minnesota, received their official pardon in a playful event filled with corny jokes and playful jabs at the president's age.

Celebrating his 81st birthday, Biden humorously remarked that this marked the 76th anniversary of the turkey pardon, but he was too young to attend the first one. "I was too young to make it up," he quipped. Acknowledging his birthday, he joked about the challenges of turning 60. The president highlighted the origin of their names, noting that while they come from Minnesota, they are named after the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, giving them a newfound appreciation for the phrase "Let freedom ring."

As the "unofficial start of the holiday season," the ceremony served as a time for gratitude and reflection. Biden touched on the Thanksgiving spirit, expressing condolences for the recent passing of former first lady Rosalynn Carter. He emphasized the importance of gathering with loved ones, cherishing traditions, and recognizing the blessings of living in the greatest nation on earth.

The formal pardon proclamation saw one of the turkeys hoisted onto a table as Biden declared, "I hereby pardon Liberty and Bell. Congratulations, birds!" Liberty and Bell, part of the presidential flock hatched in July, made their way from Minnesota to D.C. in style, traveling in their own personal vehicle. National Turkey Federation President Steve Lykken shared that these turkeys, prepped with some hype-up music, are indeed "Swifties" who enjoy the tunes of Prince. The festive event, complete with presidential wit and a touch of glamour, marked a playful kickoff to the holiday season.

With their presidential pardon secured, Liberty and Bell are set to savor a life that's all gravy as they return to the University of Minnesota and the College of Food, Ag, and National Resource Sciences. Nestled in academia, these fortunate fowls will rest their feathers and enjoy the post-pardon chapter of their lives.

President Joe Biden continues the tradition of turkey pardons, with Chocolate and Chip receiving the honor in 2022 and Peanut Butter and Jelly in 2021. The origins of this peculiar presidential custom trace back through history, with a touch of uncertainty. While folklore hints at President Abraham Lincoln sparing a bird at his son Tad's behest, the true beginning of the tradition is rooted in politics and dates back to the Truman presidency in 1947.

President Harry Truman's attempt at "poultry-less Thursdays" during the aftermath of World War II led to an unexpected inundation of live birds. In response to the "Hens for Harry" counter-initiative, the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board offered a turkey as a peace offering, although this particular bird did not escape the holiday feast.

The public sparing of a turkey gained momentum under President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, just days before his tragic assassination. Despite sporadic occurrences in the years following, the tradition found a more solid footing under the Reagan administration. However, it wasn't until 1989 that President George H.W. Bush formalized the tradition with the first official presidential pardon.

For over three decades now, at least one fortunate bird has received some extra gobbles each year, marking a unique and whimsical chapter in the annals of presidential history.

As Liberty and Bell embark on their post-pardon journey, settling into the serene halls of the University of Minnesota, the tradition of presidential turkey pardons takes its place in the colorful tapestry of American history. President Joe Biden continues this whimsical practice, following in the footsteps of his predecessors who, over the years, have granted clemency to turkeys with names as diverse as Chocolate and Chip, Peanut Butter and Jelly.

Delving into the historical roots of this peculiar tradition, the narrative weaves through the fuzzy origins, from the legendary tale of Abraham Lincoln's compassionate act to the practical politics of President Harry Truman's "poultry-less Thursdays." The journey unfolds with anecdotes of live birds flooding the White House and peace offerings in the form of feathered gifts.

While the public sparing of turkeys saw intermittent participation from various presidents and even some first ladies, it wasn't until 1989, under President George H.W. Bush, that the official presidential pardon became a longstanding tradition. In the more than three decades since, this festive act has added a touch of humor and warmth to the solemn halls of the White House, ensuring that at least one lucky turkey gets to enjoy a life beyond the holiday feast.

As we reflect on the evolution of this tradition, it becomes a quirky and endearing chapter in the presidential playbook. Through twists of history, moments of humor, and nods to the resilience of tradition, the tale of presidential turkey pardons adds a touch of levity to the solemnity of the highest office in the land.