... the attention given to the Nixon pardon is better directed at educating Americans about the more common use of constitutional mercy. In most instances, pardons are granted to “average” persons — persons of little repute, who are “connected” to no one of great social or political import. These pardons are granted to applicants many years (sometimes decades) after conviction for some minor, nonviolent offence. Consequently, they are not violent criminals being sprung from prison. The judgment of judges and juries are not being overturned. The simple effect of these pardons is restoration of civil rights ... In sum, there is very little that is representative, or generalizable, about Nixon’s pardon. It was a notable but highly idiosyncratic event that produced more heat than light.On the other hand, just eight days after pardoning Nixon, Ford "announced that he would again use the pardon power in a deeply meaningful way, with the same goal of healing national divisions":
His plan was to convene a bipartisan commission to evaluate pardons for thousands of people who had either evaded the draft or deserted the military. The Presidential Clemency Board he established did recommend the pardon of thousands of Americans, which Ford allowed. This was done without significant controversy, which may be one reason this part of the Ford legacy is now obscure.Osler and Ruckman note that the board-recommended pardons "were not controversial," but that does not mean they were not "significant." Ford granted 1,731 pardons to civilians (those who evaded the draft) and 11,872 to military personnel (who went AWOL). In fact, these pardons "represent the most important systemic use of the federal pardon power in the modern era" and they "provide a template for addressing those who have been over-sentenced for nonviolent federal narcotics crimes." See full editorial here.