Why was this power cre­ated?

The Week (US) - - News 11 -

The Con­sti­tu­tion’s Ar­ti­cle II, Sec­tion 2 gives pres­i­dents the power to grant par­dons “for Of­fenses against the United States, ex­cept in Cases of Im­peach­ment.” Par­dons can free peo­ple con­victed of crimes from jail terms, for­mally forgive them with­out ex­pung­ing their crim­i­nal records, and re­store cer­tain rights—to vote, or bear arms, for ex­am­ple. The Founders saw pres­i­den­tial par­dons as a last re­sort for peo­ple wronged by the courts. Oth­er­wise, “jus­tice would wear a coun­te­nance too san­guinary and cruel,” Alexan­der Hamil­ton wrote in The Fed­er­al­ist Pa­pers. Still, the “prin­ci­pal ar­gu­ment” for the power, he said, was to re­store “tran­quil­ity” in case of armed res­ur­rec­tion—which mo­ti­vated Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton in grant­ing the first par­don (see box) and Abra­ham Lin­coln’s de­ci­sion to par­don Con­fed­er­ate sol­diers and all but the high­est Con­fed­er­ate of­fi­cials. When Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted he had “com­plete power to par­don,” he wasn’t far off—chief ex­ec­u­tives have al­most un­lim­ited lat­i­tude to put aside con­vic­tions (but only of fed­eral crimes), and they haven’t been shy about us­ing it. “For most of Amer­i­can his­tory,” says po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist P.S. Ruck­man Jr., “pres­i­dents par­doned fre­quently, early, and of­ten.”

Nixon: A con­tro­ver­sial par­don

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