A Brief History
On September 8, 1974, American President Gerald Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon of any crimes he may have committed while in office. Although some members of the U.S. public were relieved that the country was saved the spectacle of an ex-president on trial, many were outraged, and that act of mercy may have cost Ford the 1976 presidential election.
Throughout history, there have been many cases of people being pardoned where the public thought they did not deserve to be granted clemency. In some of the cases, a pardoned person went on with their criminal ways or reverted to seditious behavior, making the person who granted the pardon regret his actions. Here 10 infamous pardons are listed. Commutations of sentence and decisions not to prosecute are included in this list.
10. Susan McDougal, 2001.
Jailed for 18 months following the Whitewater scandal for which President Clinton was investigated, McDougal had refused to testify about Clinton’s involvement and was jailed for contempt. When President Clinton pardoned her on his last day in office, it gave the impression that a favor was being returned for her silence. Clinton also pardoned his own brother Roger for an old drug charge that he had already served his entire sentence for. Still, this sort of nepotism leaves a bad taste in citizens’ mouths.
9. Whiskey Rebels, 1791.
President George Washington had to mobilize 13,000 troops to put down a rebellion by distillers who were upset about a heavy tax on distilled spirits. The rebels were caught and convicted of either state crimes or treason, the latter of the two would have resulted in their executions. Despite the trouble caused, however, and the federal expenses that accrued, Washington had his friend, the governor of Virginia, pardon them.
8. Jimmy Hoffa, 1971.
The feisty Teamsters Union boss had been a favorite target of the Kennedy political family and had been convicted of jury tampering and fraud. President Nixon pardoned him under the provision that Hoffa stay out of union business until 1980. Hoffa agreed and, in turn, supported Nixon for president in 1972. He disappeared in 1975 and has not been seen since, probably murdered by someone who disagreed with the pardon!
7. Harry M. Daugherty, 1924.
The Attorney General of the United States under President Warren Harding, Daugherty was suspected of numerous crimes of corruption, including the selling of pardons. After being fired by Harding’s successor Calvin Coolidge, Daugherty was acquitted by a hung jury in a corruption trial, but rumors that he sold pardons still abounded. One such rumor involved the selling of a pardon to World War I dissident Eugene Debs. All the innuendo surrounding Daugherty tainted the pardons issued by Harding.
6. Viet Nam War Draft Dodgers, 1977.
President Jimmy Carter tried to heal a nation torn apart over the Viet Nam War by pardoning the draft dodgers. All he succeeded in doing was anger the political right for doing it at all and anger the political left for excluding some from the blanket pardon. Most veterans of that war and members of the military in general were not very pleased with Carter’s decision.
5. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, 2007.
Convicted in the shameful outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame for political reasons, Libby had his sentence for obstruction of justice, 2 counts of perjury and making a false statement to federal investigators commuted by President George W. Bush. Jurors in his case expressed amazement that Karl Rove and Dick Cheney were not also tried. The flip side to this was that Republicans were outraged that Bush did not fully pardon Libby.
4. FALN, 1999.
FALN was a Puerto Rican terrorist group that had set off 120 bombs in the United States, killing 6 people in the process. While they were serving prison terms of 35 to 105 years, President Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 16 of these terrorists. The commutations were supported by high Catholic officials and 10 Nobel Laureates but opposed by both houses of Congress, the FBI, the FOP, the Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and even Hillary Clinton (After she initially supported her husband.)!
3. Daniel Galvan, 2013.
This blunder of blunders is the fault of the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI. While celebrating his 14th anniversary on the throne, he pardoned Spanish serial child rapist Daniel Galvan as a gesture of goodwill to Spain. At the time of the pardon, Galvan was serving a 30-year sentence for the rape of 11 Moroccan children. A hubub of the highest order ensued, with many people and groups outraged at the release of such a dangerous man. The King claimed that he did not realize the gravity of Galvan’s crimes when he issued the pardon, however, it turns out that in 2006 this irresponsible King had pardoned a French rapist and child pornographer as well! As it is, King Mohammed VI is a pardon-happy monarch and annually pardons one to two fifths of Morocco’s prison population. What a goof!
2. Patty Hearst, 1978, 2001.
Often viewed by average Americans as just another spoiled, rich kid, this daughter of a wealthy newspaper family joined up with the radical terrorist organization Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) after initially having been kidnapped by them and then in a disputed case of possible Stockholm Syndrome, took part in their bank robberies. Sentenced to 35 years in prison, her sentence was commuted to 2 years by President Carter, and she only served 22 months. President Clinton granted her a full pardon at the end of his second term in 2001.
1. Richard Nixon, 1976.
Pardoned by the man he had appointed his successor, the pardon struck many Americans as political funny business, as in Nixon picked Ford because Ford promised to pardon Nixon, something both men would deny. Recordings of Nixon engaging in private conversations show him to be a conspiratorial, paranoid and thoroughly unlikeable man. Most people think he got off easy by resigning and not being prosecuted.
Question for students (and subscribers): Can you think of any that deserve to be in it as well? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
For another interesting event that happened on September 8, please see the History and Headlines article: “September 8, 1966, The Original Star Trek Television Series Premiers on NBC.”
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For more information on this topic, please see the following resources:
Crouch, Jeffrey P. The Presidential Pardon Power. University Press of Kansas, 2009.