Number of Pardons By President

Which president has granted the most pardons?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt granted the most presidential pardons in history. National Archives and Records Administration

Presidents have the authority to pardon Americans who are convicted of crimes, essentially erasing their criminal history and freeing them from punishment. But use of the presidential pardon is controversial, and critics often weigh a commander-in-chief's support of law enforcement to his willingness to mete out justice and measure it by the number of pardons by president. The larger the number of pardons by a president, the weaker and more corrupt he is portrayed.

 

A presidential pardon is different than a commutation, however. Many people confuse a pardon and a commutation. A pardon erases a conviction, which a commutation merely voids the sentence but leaves the conviction on a criminal's record. It's true that President Barack Obama's use of the pardon was relatively rare compared to other presidents. But he granted clemency more times than any president since Harry S. Truman. Obama absolved the sentenced of 1,937 convicts during his two terms in the White House.

"Barack Obama ended his presidency having granted clemency to more people convicted of federal crimes than any chief executive in 64 years. But he also received far more requests for clemency than any U.S. president on record, largely as a result of an initiative set up by his administration to shorten prison terms for nonviolent federal inmates convicted of drug crimes," stated the Pew Research Center.

"Looking at the same data another way, Obama granted clemency to only 5 percent of those who requested it. That’s not especially unusual among recent presidents, who have tended to use their clemency power sparingly."

When it comes to pardons, however, Franklin Delano Roosevelt granted the most, in part because he served in the White House for such a long time.

 He was elected to four terms in the White House in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944. Roosevelt died less than a year into his fourth term, but he is the only president to have served more than two terms.

Here's a look at how many pardons were granted by presidents in the past, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Pardon Attorney. This list of sorted by number of pardons issue from highest to lowest.

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt: 2,819 pardons
  • Harry S. Truman: 1,913 pardons
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower: 1,110 pardons
  • Woodrow Wilson: 1,087 pardons
  • Lyndon Johnson: 960 pardons
  • Richard Nixon: 863 pardons
  • Calvin Coolidge: 773 pardons
  • Herbert Hoover: 672 pardons
  • Theodore Roosevelt: 668 pardons
  • Jimmy Carter: 534 pardons
  • John F. Kennedy: 472 pardons
  • Bill Clinton: 396 pardons
  • Ronald Reagan: 393 pardons
  • William H. Taft: 383 pardons
  • Gerald Ford: 382 pardons
  • Warren Harding: 300 pardons
  • William McKinley: 291 pardons
  • Barack Obama: 212 pardons
  • George W. Bush: 189 pardons
  • George H.W. Bush: 74 pardons
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Murse, Tom. "Number of Pardons By President." ThoughtCo, Aug. 4, 2017, thoughtco.com/number-of-pardons-by-president-3367600. Murse, Tom. (2017, August 4). Number of Pardons By President. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/number-of-pardons-by-president-3367600 Murse, Tom. "Number of Pardons By President." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/number-of-pardons-by-president-3367600 (accessed November 24, 2017).