Steve Woods

Pardon Me, Please?

In What Day is it? on September 8, 2009 at 9:20 am
Our most notorious pardon?

Our most notorious pardon?

Today is National Pardon Day.  The very idea that a public person, after the initial shock and let-down we share at discovering their guilt, after having been tried by both the courts (and often the media) before our very eyes, after having been found guilty by both, is then forgiven, or “pardoned” at the last second by our leader prior to the punishment being carried out, causes many of us to cringe. And if you disagree with the political leanings of the leader providing the pardon, the pain may seem even more egregious.

Some Things Can Never Be Lifted from Us

Did you know that an official pardon is not only a lifting of the sentence, but also of the crime itself? Not to rub salt in the wounds of those who feel they have been denied a chance to enjoy public justice of a wrong-doer…  Pardons may also be granted to individuals before they are even found guilty or convicted of a crime.  A little-known fact is that a living person must admit guilt in order to receive the pardon, causing the pardon to become a dual-edged sword. Receiving a pardon means you are known to be guilty but forgiven. The pardoned individual resides in a state of limbo, as President Nixon was, publicly known by all to be guilty, yet officially absolved from it. Nixon’s state of guilt resided within his heart and mind, a burden he bore all his life as a personal prison.

The Process of Personal Pardoning

We have all likely “pardoned” someone at least once in our own lives, forgiving our loved ones who transgressed, rather than sticking to our own personal “laws” and punishing them as we would someone less desirable in our lives. The difference may be the personal pain we would feel alongside them, or even the fear that we would lose that individual in our life for having provided the punishment. In many countries, pardons are offered by leaders to individuals who have committed an offense, yet in other areas of their lives leading up to the event provided a positive or beneficial role to the society in general. We know what they did was wrong, but we also want our children to grow up learning the ideals of forgiveness, as well as the worth of service in balancing the blinded Scales of Justice.

A Short History of the Presidential Pardon

In the United States, the power of the Presidential pardon has had issues from the outset, largely due to perceived abuses in early England’s legal system by the royalty.  George Washington provided the very first Presidential pardon, to the leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion. From that day forth, people of various political and/or social leanings have had problems with pretty much every single pardon performed by our leaders, typically stating that the pardon was made due to political expediency, or as a personal favor or payback. Andrew Johnson pardoned thousands of former Confederates after the Civil War, Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam-era draft dodgers, George Bush Sr. pardoned a number of individuals, Bill Clinton pardoned 16 members of FALN, and the list goes on…

How we feel about pardons also is related to when they occurred. How many of us are angered by George Washington’s or Andrew Johnson’s pardons? With time, the most tumultuous of pardons occurring in the past 20 years will be seen by our descendants with less angry eyes as well.

Pardoning as a Reflection on Us

A Presidential pardon is society’s answer to our own more personal episodes of forgiveness. And as in our personal lives, the Presidential pardons we agree with tend to be aligned with the Presidents (and/or transgressors) we love(d) and cherish(ed.) It is our emotional tie to the individual that belies our forgiveness of them. It is society’s love of an individual that allows us to forgive them publicly for their transgressions.

May we all, in times of trial, find individuals who will balance our goodness against our mistakes, and find us worthy to forgive and love again…


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