Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Obama Administration: Another Lincoln You Say?

We have heard numerous comparisons made between our new President and the man who is perhaps Illinois' greatest political son, Abraham Lincoln. At times, it certainly appears that Mr. Obama has invited these comparisons. PardonPower has these observations with respect to what we would like to see of Mr. Lincoln in Mr. Obama.

First, let it be said that we certainly hope that President Obama does not take Mr. Lincoln's cue and set up secretive military tribunals to try American citizens. We hope that Obama does not suspend any prisoner's right to be informed as to why they are being detained within a reasonable amount of time, as did Mr. Lincoln - squarely in the face of two direct rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. We assume officials in the Obama administration will not shock the world's notions of "war crimes" the way that Lincoln's generals did. And we hope that Mr. Obama does not instruct that his critics in the press be harassed, threatened and prosecuted, the way Mr. Lincoln did, simply because they exercise their First Amendment right to express dissenting points of view. As Mr. Obama said today, we hope that his administration does not sacrifice the Nation's ideals at the expense of the Nation's security.

On the other hand, there is one side of Lincoln that we would love to see in President Obama. Despite the fact that he was riding thin electoral support and had a Civil War on his hands, Abraham Lincoln took the time and, to some extent, the political risk, to grant pardons to almost 400 individuals in just over four years - more than both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush combined granted in a full twleve years. Had he not been assassinated, Lincoln would have certainly set a record for individual pardons up to that point in history.

Because President Lincoln frequently provided multiple explanations for his clemency decisions, we know that he considered a wide range of factors in granting these pardons but especially: good behavior during confinement, a penitent disposition, first time offenses and the youth of offenders. Scholars have noted Lincoln "thrived on the hope that each request he granted further educated a portion of the public as to the necessity of a clemency power in the justice system." With hundreds of thousands of Americans in our prisons, and thousands of applications for clemency piled up in the Department of Justice, we believe the Nation is long over-due for this side of Abraham Lincoln to re-emerge in the White House.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. Is there a citation for the quote at the end?

P.S. Ruckman, Jr. said...

EDITOR: "Inside Lincoln's Clemency Decision Making." 29 Presidential Studies Quarterly 84-99 (Winter 1999).

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