By Dora Mekouar
VOA News
January 09, 2021

The U.S. presidential power to issue pardons, so liberally wielded by President Donald Trump in recent weeks, has riled his critics, but history shows presidential pardons have courted controversy from the very beginning.

The Founding Fathers gave presidents near-absolute pardon power as a way to soften the edges of inflexible criminal law, says Brian Kalt, a professor of law at Michigan State University’s College of Law.

“They debated it and they decided that the power could be abused, but it was important to be able to pardon, even treason, because as [Alexander] Hamilton argued in the Federalist Papers, there might be a rebellion going on, and it might be a good way to end it.”

That was the case with the very first presidential pardon issued by George Washington on November 2, 1795. America’s first president pardoned two men sentenced to die in connection with an insurrection that came to be known as the Whiskey Rebellion. The men were part of an uprising of distillers protesting a costly tax on spirits.

“And so, in that case it worked the way they had hoped it would,” Kalt says…….

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