Rumors and innuendo continue to swirl around the Special Counsel’s office and four criminal indictments already have been issued. Considering the negative possibilities of the situation it is not surprising that I have received several queries about presidential pardons.
Yes, all presidents have the power to pardon those who have broken the law. Such pardon power was written into the U.S. Constitution in 1787. There was no small amount of disagreement among the delegates on that subject in that first Constitutional Convention.
Edmund Randolph, a staunch federalist, voiced fear that “with pardon power a traitorous president could shield himself from justice.” George Mason, author of the Bill of rights, imagined pardon power to be used to “screen from punishment those the president had instigated to commit the crime.”
Still, the majority of the delegates at the convention believed the president should have the power to pardon. So, it was written into our Constitution in Article II, Section 2, Clause 1.
“... and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment.”
Thus, it was never envisioned by the voting delegates that a president might be allowed to pardon the person he sees in his mirror.
George Washington was the first to use the pardon. He pardoned two who were involved in the Whisky Rebellion (A tax rebellion in western Pennsylvania.). He said one was a “simpleton,” and the other was, “insane.”
Abraham Lincoln granted 343 pardons, many to Union Army deserters facing execution. He said, “If Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?” It should be noted that one of the first Confederates to apply for a pardon and swear an oath of allegiance to the United States was General Robert E. Lee. He said, “True patriotism sometimes requires of men to act exactly contrary, at one period, to that which it does at another.” In contrast, Confederate President, Jefferson Davis refused a pardon stating, “Repentance must precede the right of pardon, and I have not repented.”
Well known personalities who have committed crimes and been pardoned by presidents include the following: Harry Flipper, the first black graduate of a military academy (Clinton); Eugene Dibs, an anti-draft activist before WWI, (Harding); Iva D’Aguino. She was the celebrated Tokyo Rose, made famous as a spokesperson for Japan in WWII, (Ford); W. Mark Felt, The Watergate scandal’s “Deep Throat.” (Reagan); Roger Clinton, Convicted of drug charges. (Clinton); Scooter Libby, convicted of obstructing justice. (George W. Bush); Chelsea Manning, indicted for espionage. (Obama).
Perhaps the most celebrated pardon of modern times is that given to Richard Nixon by President Gerald Ford. Nixon, while still president, knew when he was forced to turn over the Watergate tapes to the Special Prosecutor that he would be impeached and convicted of obstructing justice. Contemplating resignation to avoid impeachment, he implored Vice President Gerald Ford to guarantee that upon taking office he would pardon Nixon. Ford refused. Having no other option, Nixon resigned. (Aug. 9, 1974)
In September 1974, President Ford granted Nixon a pardon. He justified it in two ways. First, he said we needed to “end our long national nightmare.” Second, he cited the Supreme Court case of Burdick vs. The United States (1919), where the Supreme Court found that acceptance of the pardon was an admission of guilt. Thus, when Nixon accepted the pardon he was, in fact, admitting guilt in the Watergate cover-up. Thus, President Ford felt strongly that he ended the “nightmare,” but not without Nixon accepting responsibility for his crimes.
All Presidents except William H. Harrison and James A. Garfield issued pardons. Franklin D. Roosevelt granted the most (2,819), followed by Truman (1,913), and Eisenhower (1,087). George H. W. bush granted the fewest, (74), followed by George W. Bush (189), and Barak Obama (212).
— You can reach Dr. Mark L. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Books by Hopkins, “Journey to Gettysburg, The Wounds of War, The World as it was When Jesus Came,” and “Facts & Opinions on the Issues of our Time,” can be acquired at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and through the E-mail above.