Monday, January 5, 2009

A Copyrighted List of 11 Notable Presidential Pardons

Ethan Trex of has attempted to make a list of "notable" pardons. We really like the language "notable" as opposed to "controversial" (the standard fare). As we explained in a professional paper delivered at a conference back in 2001:

... “notable” acts of clemency have been a feature of presidential administrations from George Washington to Bill Clinton. Every generation of Americans has seen its "outrageous” and seemingly “unforgettable” presidential pardon(s) and each generation has successfully forgotten the stun, shock, celebration and resentment of previous generations. In my forthcoming book, Pardon Me, Mr. President, I am careful to describe these exercises in forgetfulness in terms of “notable” acts of clemency - as opposed to “controversial” acts of clemency. From the standpoint of a political scientist, the distinction is an important one to make.

It is clear that some of the great public “controversies” surrounding presidential pardons have been sparked, fueled, and driven by partisan politics, or simple animosity toward the president. In these circumstances, critics of the president may very well have enjoyed an initial advantage in the court of public opinion

... these episodes provide critics with a means to vent frustration, disappointment, and anger. But the effort to stir “controversy” over presidential pardons has often - at the same time - highlighted an important fact about the world of politics. In politics, “controversy” is in the eye of the beholder. Furthermore, in the world of politics “controversy” is imagined, peddled, stirred, directed and, in some circumstances, the clear sign of desperation among those without power or the force of argument ...

... The clearly subjective nature of “controversy” is further exacerbated by the fact that, in the world of political discourse, “controversy” is routinely peddled, stirred, and manipulated. Indeed, a wildly popular (though usually mindless) way to criticize, or minimize, a political opponent is to attach the word “controversial” to their name, or their views of public policy. The ploy is, of course, based on the unstated premise that many people do not like controversy, or that controversy is generally thought of as “bad.” If someone, is “controversial,” then there must be something wrong with them! As a result, a list of "controversial" acts of clemency would itself be "controversial." The selection process for such a list would be hopelessly subjective.

Mr. Trex, on the other hand, does not provide any explanation for his use of the word "notable." What follows is equally interesting though. Indeed, Trex's "copyrighted" list is unlike just about any other you would find anywhere else. It includes:

1. George Wilson
2. Richard Nixon
3. Peter Yarrow
4. George Steinbrenner
5. Junior Johnson
6. Rick Hendrick
7. Patty Hearst
8. Every Confederate Soldier
9. Roger Clinton
10. Samuel Mudd, Edmund Spangler, and Samuel Arnold
11. Brigham Young

Think about it, when have you ever seen a list like this, that did not contain the name of Marc Rich, the FALN terrorists and/or the Iran Contra defendants? When have you ever seen a list like this that contains the names Rick Hendrick and Junior Johnson? Are you kidding? We can only think of one instance where we have ever seen such a thing. And it just so happens to be the same professional paper that we quoted above where, at page 18 (Figure Four), where 4 of Trex's top 6 "notables" are listed (Yarrow, Steinbrenner, Johnson and Hendrick) at the top of the list! A 5th name (Clinton) is mentioned further down the list.

But, then there is George Wilson? What? Who in the heck is that? Has he ever made anyone's list of pardons? Well, it just so happens that Mr. Wilson is discussed on pages 13-4 of the same paper (what are the odds?):
Wilson and a partner were sentenced to hang for robbing the mail and putting the life of a driver “in jeopardy.” The partner was executed on schedule, but President Jackson was convinced to exercise clemency. Jackson’s commutation, like so many other things in the case, was a bit unusual. Instead of commuting the death sentence to life in prison, Jackson basically commuted Wilson’s sentence to “anything but death.” The commutation thus allowed for a prison sentence (which would have to then be determined by the trial court) and further trials and convictions.

As Wilson was about to be sentenced in an additional case, the trial court was curious about what impact the President’s pardon had (or should have) in its decision- making. But Wilson and his lawyer made no mention of the pardon at any point in the second trial and, when asked, refused to seek any benefit from it. The judges remained uncertain as to whether they should simply pretend there was no pardon or proceed to sentence Wilson with the pardon in mind.

See Trex's list here, but don't you dare plagiarize from it! It is copyrighted!

P.S. Johnson's pardon of the Lincoln conspirators is mentioned on page 9 of the same professional paper. Patricia Hearst is mentioned at page 11. The Christmas Day pardon of "every Confederate soldier" (1868) is presented in a list of amnesties on page 28 as well.

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