The history of presidential pardons

Erik Feliciano, Reporter

In his final day in office, former President Donald Trump granted pardons to a large number of people. Throughout history presidents gave out pardons throughout their career, some are incredibly infamous. How common is a pardon, and what constitutes receiving a pardon?

Pardoning is not something that is uncommon and is an action that nearly every president has participated in dating back to President George Washington. While the person being pardoned might question why they were pardoned, the action of pardoning is actually quite common.

Dr. David Justice, Ph.D,  a history professor at UNF, provided answers to some questions revolving around the pardoning process.

According to Dr. Justice, former President Trump was not even the president to issue the most pardons, Trump is placed between former president Barack Obama and former president George Washington with Trump issuing 237, George Washington issuing 200, and Barack Obama issuing 1927 pardons.

Dr. Justice also had a few things to say about the presidents who gave out the most pardons, “If you look at the history of the presidency, Jimmy Carter technically has the highest with over 200,000 due to granting amnesty to Vietnam War draft dodgers. Andrew Johnson is the next highest with almost 8,000 as he granted amnesty to over 7,000 Confederates.”

Some questionable pardons have been issued very early on in a president’s stay in office, such as the infamous Nixon pardon. “Gerald Ford’s full pardon of Richard Nixon. This occurred within the first few months of the Ford Administration with the hopes that it would help Americans move on from Watergate, which it did not.” 

Many presidents also wait until the end of their term to grant pardons. ”The reason that so many pardons are issued at the end of a president’s term in office is because it is considered to be their last act. They do not have to answer to Congress about pardons.”

While pardoning may seem like a big significance and only happens in rare cases, it is actually pretty common and happens throughout a president’s career.


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