Though pardons have been challenged in the courts, and the power to grant them challenged by Congress, the courts have consistently declined to put limits on the president's discretion. The president can issue a full pardon, reversing a criminal conviction (along with its legal effects) as if it never happened. A pardon can be issued from the time an offense is committed, and can even be issued after the full sentence has been served. The president can issue a reprieve, commuting a criminal sentence, lessening its severity, its duration, or both while leaving a record of the conviction in place. Additionally, the president can make a pardon conditional, or vacate a conviction while leaving parts of the sentence in place, like the payment of fines or restitution.
Pardons granted by presidents from George Washington until Grover Cleveland's first term (1885–89) were handwritten by the president; thereafter, pardons were prepared for the president by administrative staff requiring only that the president sign it. The records of these presidential acts were openly available for public inspection until 1934. In 1981 the Office of the Pardon Attorney was created and records from President George H. W. Bush forward are now listed.
John Fries, for his role in Fries's Rebellion; convicted of treason due to opposition to a tax; Fries and others were pardoned, and a general amnesty was issued for everyone involved in 1800.
Democratic-Republican president Thomas Jefferson pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 119 people. One of his first acts upon taking office was to issue a general pardon for any person convicted under the Sedition Act. Among them are:
George Wilson – convicted of robbing the United States mails. Strangely, Wilson refused to accept the pardon. The case went before the Supreme Court, and in United States v. Wilson the court stated: "A pardon is a deed, to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered; and if it is rejected, we have discovered no power in this court to force it upon him." While Wilson refused the pardon, he avoided being hanged unlike his accomplice who was. A report in The National Gazette of Philadelphia dated January 14, 1841 suggests that he was in prison for ten years until released. He received another pardon from President Martin Van Buren, which he accepted. However, the Smithsonian magazine has written that Wilson was hanged as a result of refusing the pardon.
Martin Van Buren
Democratic president Martin Van Buren pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 168 people. Among them are:
Whig president Zachary Taylor pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 38 people.
Whig president Millard Fillmore pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 170 people. Among them are:
Daniel Drayton and Edward Sayres – convicted in the Pearl incident (transporting slaves to freedom) in 1848; pardoned
Democratic president Franklin Pierce pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 142 people.
Noah Hanson – a free black man who was tried and convicted of assisting slaves to escape, convicted in 1851; pardoned in 1854; only known presidential pardon of a Black person for Underground Railroad activities.
Democratic president James Buchanan pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 150 people. Among them are:
Various men who enlisted in the army, but who were, among other circumstances, underage, bounty jumpers, or AWOL.
Democratic president Andrew Johnson pardoned about 7,000 people in the "over $20,000" class (taxable property over $20,000) by May 4, 1866. More than 600 prominent North Carolinians were pardoned just before the election of 1864. President Andrew Johnson pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 654 people. Among them are:
Ex-Confederates – On Christmas Day, 1868, Johnson issued a full and unconditional pardon and amnesty to all former Confederates of the rebellion (earlier amnesties requiring signed oaths and excluding certain classes of people were issued by both Lincoln and Johnson). Among them were:
Democratic president Woodrow Wilson pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 2,480 people. Among them are:
George Burdick – a New York newspaper editor, who had refused to testify in federal court regarding the sources used in his article concerning the collection of customs duties. He pleaded the 5th Amendment; President Wilson then granted him a full pardon for all of his federal offenses, which he refused. He continued to plead the 5th, at which he was sentenced by a federal judge for contempt. It was then that the Supreme Court (in Burdick v. United States) reinforced the necessity of accepting a pardon to be valid; the federal judge had imprisoned Burdick on the grounds that he was claiming falsely his need for protection against self-incrimination.
Frederick Krafft – Socialist political candidate convicted for alleged violation of the Espionage Act in June 1918, pardoned after serving nine months. Only person convicted under this law to receive a full executive pardon.
Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 1,157 people. Among them is:
Maurice L. Schick – military court-martial for brutal murder in 1954; death sentence commuted to life imprisonment in 1960, with the condition that he would never be released. Legal challenge went to the Supreme Court, questioning the constitutionality of the punishment "Life Imprisonment Without Parole". Decided in Schick v. Reed that to be so sentenced was constitutional.
It is important to note that "until the Eisenhower Administration, each pardon grant was evidenced by its own separate warrant signed by the president. President Eisenhower began the practice of granting pardons by the batch, through the device of a "master warrant" listing all of the names of those pardoned, which also delegated to the Attorney General (or, later, the Deputy Attorney General or Pardon Attorney) authority to sign individual warrants evidencing the president's action."
John F. Kennedy
Democratic president John F. Kennedy pardoned, commuted, or rescinded the convictions of 575 people. Among them are:
First-time offenders convicted of crimes under the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 – pardoned all, in effect overturning much of the law passed by Congress.
Iva Toguri D'Aquino, aka – "Tokyo Rose" – convicted of treason in 1949, paroled in 1956. She was pardoned on January 19, 1977, Ford's last day in office. The only U.S. citizen convicted of treason during World War II to be pardoned.
Robert E. Lee – Confederate general during the Civil War, full rights of citizenship were posthumously restored
Republican president Ronald Reagan pardoned, commuted, or rescinded the convictions of 406 people. Among them are:
Mark Felt and Edward S. Miller – FBI officials convicted in December 1980 of authorizing illegal break-ins and fined. Pardoned on March 20, 1981. Mark Felt later in life admitted to being Deep Throat, the informant during the Watergate affair.
Myra Soble – 1957 conviction of Conspiracy to Receive and Obtain National Defense Information and transmit same to foreign government in the Rosenberg spy ring; served four years, pardoned in 1991, died one year later.
John Deutch – Director of Central Intelligence, former Provost and University Professor, MIT. He had agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor for mishandling government secrets on January 19, 2001, but President Clinton pardoned him in his last day in office, two days before the Justice Department could file the case against him.
Edward Downe, Jr. – convicted of wire fraud, filing false income tax returns, and securities fraud in 1992; pardoned
Elizam Escobar – Puerto Rican artist and activist, convicted of seditious conspiracy in 1980; pardoned
FALN – commuted the sentences of 16 members of FALN, a Puerto Rican clandestine paramilitary organization operating mostly in Chicago and New York City
Henry O. Flipper – The first black West Point cadet was found guilty of "conduct unbecoming an officer" in 1882. Posthumously pardoned.
Patty Hearst – Convicted of bank robbery in 1976 after being kidnapped and allegedly brainwashed. Prison term commuted by Jimmy Carter and was released from prison in 1979. She was fully pardoned by Clinton in 2001.
Rick Hendrick – NASCAR team owner & champion; convicted of mail fraud in 1997; pardoned
Susan McDougal – business partner with Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton in the failed Whitewater land deal. Guilty of contempt of court, she served her entire sentence starting in 1998 and was then pardoned.
Samuel Loring Morison – former Naval intelligence officer, convicted of espionage and theft of government property in 1985; pardoned
Ian Schrager, former co-owner of the famed dance club Studio 54, pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 1979 and received three and a half years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Pardoned on January 17, 2017.
Oscar López Rivera, FALN member sentenced in 1981 to 55 years in prison for seditious conspiracy, use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms, and conspiracy to transport explosives with intent to destroy government property, and subsequently to an additional 15 years for attempted escape in 1988. Commuted on January 17, 2017.
Jack Johnson, a champion boxer who was convicted in 1913 while traveling with his white girlfriend for violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for "immoral" purposes, released after one year. Posthumously pardoned on May 24, 2018.
Alice Johnson, an unemployed parcel delivery worker and first-time drug offender sentenced to life without parole in 1996 for conspiracy to possess cocaine, attempted possession of cocaine, and money laundering. Commuted on June 6, 2018.
Michael Behenna, former United States Army First Lieutenant who was convicted in 2009 of murdering an unarmed prisoner during the Iraq War. Sentenced to 25 years in military prison, paroled in 2014. Pardoned on May 7, 2019.
Conrad Black, a British newspaper publisher convicted in 2007 of fraud and obstruction of justice for scheming to siphon off millions of dollars from the sale of newspapers, spent 3+1⁄2 years in prison and was deported. Pardoned on May 15, 2019.
Pat Nolan, former California state legislator who pleaded guilty to racketeering in 1994, served 2 years and 2 months in prison. Pardoned on May 16, 2019.
Mathew L. Golsteyn, a US Army officer who served in the War in Afghanistan. He was accused of murder after the 2010 killing of an unarmed Afghan bomb maker who was a prisoner of war, and the U.S. Army had opened an investigation of him in 2016. Pardoned on November 15, 2019.
Clint Lorance, a former first lieutenant with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division in the U.S. Army and veteran of the War in Afghanistan. He was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder for ordering soldiers in his platoon to open fire at three men sitting on a motorcycle in southern Afghanistan in July 2012 while his platoon was on combat patrol. During the trial all platoon members testified that the men were sitting, unmoving on a motorcycle while the defendant claimed the motorcycle was approaching at a high speed. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison in August 2013, and sent to Fort Leavenworth. Pardoned on November 15, 2019.
Rod Blagojevich, former Governor of Illinois, was charged with attempting to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate to succeed President-elect Barack Obama. Was convicted of soliciting bribes, extortion, and wire fraud on June 27, 2011, and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Was commuted to time served on February 18, 2020.
Bernard Kerik, former New York City Police Commissioner, pleaded guilty to tax fraud and perjury in 2010 for concealing apartment renovations paid for by a contractor that the city had blacklisted because of suspected ties to organized crime. Was sentenced to four years in prison in 2010; was released in May 2013. Pardoned on February 18, 2020.
Michael Flynn, retired United States Army lieutenant general and the 25th National Security Advisor. Flynn withdrew his original guilty plea for making false statements to the FBI, and federal district judge Emmet G. Sullivan had ruled the matter to be placed on hold. Flynn was pardoned on November 25, 2020.
Alex van der Zwaan, a New York–based Dutch lawyer who was convicted on a guilty plea in Feb. 2018 of making false statements to law enforcement officers in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. van der Zwaan served his 30-day jail sentence, paid a $20,000 fine, and was deported after his release from jail. Trump pardoned him on December 23, 2020.
Kodak Black, an American rapper who confessed to lying on background checks associated with purchasing firearms during two separate instances in 2019. Commuted on January 20, 2021, after already having served "nearly half" of his 46-month sentence.
As of December 2022, Democratic president Joe Biden pardoned, commuted, or rescinded the following convictions:
On April 26, 2022, Biden issued 3 full pardons and 75 commutations.
On October 6, 2022, Biden pardoned all those convicted of what was previously the federal offense of simple possession of marijuana, totaling 6,500, via Proclamation 10467. This excluded non-U.S. citizens and those who were considered illegal immigrants at the time of their arrest.
^p. 34, Vallandigham, Clement Laird. The Trial Hon. Clement L. Vallandigham by a Military Commission: and the Proceedings Under His Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Circuit Court of the US for the Southern District of Ohio. Cincinnati, OH: Rickey and Carroll, 1863.