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Free birds: Presidential turkey pardons

#Mac or #Cheese? White House officials asked viewers to decide which of the two full-grown broad-breasted white domesticated turkeys should be pardoned by President Barack Obama. The President pardoned both the winner and the runner-up.

Americans devour an estimated 46 million pounds of turkey each Thanksgiving, but every year, one or two birds are spared this fate by none other than the President of the United States. Take a look at a few moments of comic clemency from presidential turkey pardons over the years.

President Barack Obama, with daughters Sasha and Malia, carries on the Thanksgiving tradition of sparing the national turkey, Popcorn, from the dinner table with a "presidential pardon," at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 27 as John Burkel, current chairman of the National Turkey Federation in Badger, Minn, stands left. After the pardoning, Popcorn and Caramel travel to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens where they will be on display for visitors during "Christmas at Mount Vernon." Carolyn Kaster / AP
Are you #TeamCaramel or #TeamPopcorn? White House officials asked citizens to vote via Twitter hashtags which of the two full-grown turkeys named after tasty treats should be pardoned by President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Popcorn earned the most votes, but the President pardoned both. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
President Barack Obama with daughters Sasha, center, and Malia, right, give the official pardon in 2012 to Cobbler, who won a Facebook vote, but also spared the life of runner-up Gobbler (not pictured). National Turkey Federation Chairman Steve Willardsen is at left. J. Scott Applewhite / AP
President Barack Obama pardoned a turkey named Courage during a ceremony in the North Portico of the White House on Nov. 25, 2009. Walter Pelletier (center), chairman of the National Turkey Federation, and Paul Hill, also with the Federation, presided over the pardon; the president's daughter Sasha looks on.

Alex Brandon / AP
Turkey "Liberty" got a little too close to President George W. Bush at the annual turkey pardon at the White House on Nov. 19, 2001. Bush noted at the event that “our guest of honor looks a little nervous. Nobody’s told him yet that I’m going to give him a pardon.”

After his big debut, Liberty spent the remainder of his days on a farm in Virginia. Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images
President Clinton, standing next to Jim Cooper, chairman of the National Turkey Federation, laughs while looking at 35-pound turkey Carl (who’s wearing a White House visitor’s pass), on Nov. 27, 1996.

“We can all be thankful that there will be one less turkey in Washington, D.C., tomorrow,” he joked at the ceremony. This turkey ended up at a Virginia petting zoo. Doug Mills / AP
President George H. W. Bush pardoned a National Thanksgiving Turkey presented by the National Turkey Federation, during a Rose Garden ceremony on Nov. 25, 1992.

While Harry Truman has often been credited as the first president to pardon a turkey, that honor actually goes to Bush. “Let me assure this fine tom he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table. Not this guy. He’s been granted a presidential pardon as of right now, allowing him to live out his days on a farm not far from here,” he said in 1989. Greg Gibson / AP
The National Turkey Federation presents President Ronald Reagan with a turkey during the annual White House ceremony in 1983.

While he never officially pardoned a turkey, Reagan joked about the practice in 1987 to avoid questions about pardoning Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair. He said that he would also pardon a turkey named "Charlie," who was headed to a petting zoo. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
President Ford was presented with a turkey by the National Turkey Federation on Nov. 20, 1975, which marked the 30th consecutive year the Federation gave the president a bird before Thanksgiving.

A White House memo also reveals it was the first year that the president, turkey and presenter were all from the same state (in this case, Michigan). Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
President Richard Nixon received a Thanksgiving bird during the annual turkey presentation ceremony in this undated photograph.

He was said to have spared a turkey’s life in 1970 without issuing a pardon. “I can’t use this bird. Look at those eyes,” he said. Whitehouse.gov
Just three days before his assassination, President Kennedy was presented with this 55-pound turkey from the Keithley McPherrin Turkey Ranch in Sunnymead, Calif., on Nov. 19, 1963. The turkey came with a sign around his neck reading, “Good eating, Mr. President.”

But Kennedy didn’t have the heart to eat this bird. At the ceremony, he said, “We’ll just let this one grow… It’s our Thanksgiving present to him.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
President Harry S. Truman received a Thanksgiving turkey from members of the Poultry and Egg National Board outside of the White House on Nov. 16, 1949. The Truman Library says there’s no evidence the president initiated the pardoning tradition, despite his reputation as being the first to do so.

“Truman sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table,” the Truman Library said in a statement. Harry S. Truman Presidential Library