Saturday, March 27, 2010

Martin Van Buren's Geographic Mercy

Martin Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York, and the son of a local tavern keeper. He was raised and educated in New York and admitted to the bar in 1803. He served as a State Senator from 1812 to 1820 and a United States Senator from 1821 to 1828. New York elected him as its Governor in 1820, but Van Buren would wind up having little time to gain experience with the pardoning power in that position.

Less than two months after his election, Andrew Jackson chose him to be Secretary of State. Van Buren played the role of faithful Vice President from 1833 to 1837 then won the presidential election of 1836. He gathered fifty-one percent of the popular vote and the electoral votes of fifteen (of twenty-five) states. But a glance through Van Buren’s two hundred and forty one individual acts of clemency reveals he did not forget his roots.

Thirteen of Van Buren’s clemency warrants do not identify the state where convictions were attained. One pardon was granted to a navy man who attacked a superior. Fifty-two of the remaining two hundred and twenty-seven clemency warrants involve crimes committed in the District of Columbia. That leaves one hundred and seventy-seven warrants distributed throughout every state in the Nation, except Mississippi. The state of New York alone accounts for eighty-six (or forty nine percent) of those pardons.  The second highest number for any single state is a mere eleven (Louisiana).

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