David Christy, an editor at the newspaper in Enid, Okla., provides a fascinating summary of presidential pardon and commutation recipients. Do non-violent  offenders not deserve  the same compassion?

Some 20,000 pardons and clemencies were issued by presidents in the 20th century alone, and virtually all presidents have used their constitutional discretion.

George Washington pardoned, commuted or rescinded convictions of 16 people, including two convicted of treason during the Whiskey Rebellion.

whiskey rebellion

George Washington put down the Whiskey Rebellion, then pardoned its leaders

John Adams had one of the more unusual: He pardoned a man for stealing rigging from the new warship USS Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson excused 119 people, including David Brown, convicted of sedition under the federal Sedition Act of 1798, for criticizing the U.S. government.

Anonymous_portrait_of_Jean_Lafitte,_early_19th_century,_Rosenberg_Library,_Galveston,_Texas

Pirate Jean Lafitte, pardoned by James Madison

James Madison pardoned infamous pirate Jean Lafitte, granted because of his assistance in helping save New Orleans from British invasion in the War of 1812.

John Quincy Adams pardoned Indian leaders Wekau and Chickhonsic for their role in the Winnebago War (and that wasn’t a price war over RV’s, either).

Andrew Jackson had one of the more interesting: He pardoned George Wilson, convicted of robbing the mail. Wilson refused the pardon, and his refusal was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

William Henry Harrison and James Garfield are the only two presidents who had no pardons. Harrison died of pneumonia one month after taking office, and Garfield was assassinated shortly after he was sworn in.

James Polk pardoned John C. Fremont, who was convicted by court martial of mutiny in the Army. Despite the conviction, Fremont later became the Republican candidate for president of the United States in 1856.

Brigham Young

Mormon leader Brigham Young, pardoned by James Buchanan

James Buchanan pardoned noted Mormon leader Brigham Young for his role in the Utah War.

Abraham Lincoln pardoned or rescinded the conviction of 343 people during the Civil War, including 264 of 303 Dakota Indians, who attacked white settlers in the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862.

He also pardoned his sister-in-law, Confederate Emilie Todd Helm, and anti-war Democrat and Copperhead Clement Vallandigham, who was sentenced for disloyalty to the Union.

Whimsically, Lincoln also showed clemency for the soldier doll “Jack,” who had been shot for desertion by his sons, Willie and Tad. “The Doll Jack is pardoned by order of the President,” and he signed it A. Lincoln.

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Dr. Samuel Mudd, who conspired to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, was pardoned by Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson had the unenviable and thankless task of following Lincoln after the Civil War. He gave unconditional amnesty to all Confederates on Christmas Day 1868. That included Confederate States of America Vice President Alexander Stephens. He also commuted sentences for Lincoln assassination conspirators Samuel Arnold, Edmund Spangler and Dr. Samuel Mudd.

Ulysses S. Grant pardoned 1,332 people, among them many Confederate leaders, under the Amnesty Act of 1872. (Note: This act was a law passed by Congress.)

Chester A. Arthur commuted the politically contrived court martial conviction of Union Gen. Fitz John Porter, for his actions at the Second Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War.

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Lt. William Calley, convicted of massacre in Vietnam, pardoned by Richard Nixon

Benjamin Harrison pardoned members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the offense of polygamy and plural marriage.

William McKinley pardoned Charles Moore for blasphemy, not your run-of-the-mill conviction in American history.

Noteworthy in modern times was Richard Nixon, for pardoning labor leader Jimmy Hoffa and Army Lt. William Calley, convicted of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam; while Jimmy Carter posthumously pardoned Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Gerald Ford tops all presidents for the most high-profile pardons. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had his full rights of citizenship posthumously restored, and Ford granted a controversial full and unconditional pardon to President Nixon before he was indicted for his role in the Watergate coverup that forced his resignation.


Expanded presidential clemency lists can be found here.

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