Has a president ever revoked a pardon?

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"Experts said they knew of no other instance in which a presidential pardon had been revoked. They said it was not clear whether Bush was legally allowed to do so." - Chicago Tribune, December 25, 2008

One can hardly blame the Tribune for printing this statement. Lord knows countless other news agencies are doing the same thing today. There were deadlines to meet. There are plenty of people willing to talk about pardons, and even more willing to talk about the president! But there are very few people who have actually researched and written on the pardon power and deserve the title"expert." My forthcoming book dedicates considerable space to the topic of pardons that have been revoked. Here are just a few notes to share on the topic. This is not the appropriate forum to be comprehensive:

Ulysses S. Grant's first clemency decision, on his third day in office, was to revoke two pardons granted by Andrew Johnson. Both men challenged Grant's power to do so, and lost their case in federal court. A central passage in a judicial opinion read:

"If the president can arrest the mission of the messenger went the messenger has departed but ten feet from the door of the presidential mansion, he can arrest such mission at any time before the messenger delivers the pardon to the warden of the prison."

The fact that"the president" - in this case - meant two different presidents (Johnson and Grant), and the fact that - in this case - the warden had actually received the pardons but simply stuck them in his desk for a while, did not matter. The pardons had not actually been placed in the hands of Moses and Jacob DePuy, so the two men stayed in prison and were pardoned (by Grant) later....

Related Links

  • Talking Points Memo analysis
  • Read entire article at P.S. Ruckman, Jr. at PardonPower.com

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    James W Loewen - 12/27/2008

    HNN is a form of publication. Indeed, a post on HNN is often read by more folks than an article in the Journal of Obscure Pedantic History. So someone -- the writer? the intern? -- should read it before posting. Then the rest of us will not be saddled with "prose" like this: "If the president can arrest the mission of the messenger went the messenger has departed". Sigh.