America Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked  

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List Rules Vote up the most controversial presidential pardons - those that most shocked the country and led to intense national debate.

Why do presidents pardon people? It depends on the situation and who you ask, as the topic of presidential pardons is ripe with controversy. United States history is no stranger to political scandals and presidential corruption, and pardons are often a cause of public outrage. Oftentimes, individuals granted clemency by the Commander in Chief become the subject of national debate. Even partial pardons - like commuted sentences - are often met with backlash. Here, you'll find every president's most controversial pardon, ranked by your votes.

As they're absolved of past criminal convictions, people who have been pardoned by the president get a second chance at life. However, there is a lot of disagreement in regards to who actually deserves a second chance. The nation was appalled when Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for his part in Watergate, as Americans were desperate to see reparation for widespread political corruption. Donald Trump's pardon of Joe Arpaio sparked a debate as to whether the Arizona sheriff was a deeply prejudiced tyrant or an unsung champion of justice. What other presidential pardons have shocked Americans? Vote up the pardons you find controversial below.

1
257 122
Andrew Johnson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Andrew Johnson Pardons Man Who Aided Lincoln's Assassin

Dr. Samuel Mudd helped Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, escape shortly after Booth shot Lincoln. While he was sentenced to life in prison for his actions, Andrew Johnson gave him a full and unconditional pardon.

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2
281 143
Bill Clinton is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Bill Clinton Pardons His Own Brother

Bill Clinton kept it in the family when granting controversial pardons. He pardoned his brother, Roger Clinton, Jr., for 1985 convictions of cocaine possession and drug-trafficking. Roger Clinton later received several DUIs.

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3
281 149
Gerald Ford is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Gerald Ford Pardons Richard Nixon

Hands down Gerald Ford's most controversial pardon was that of Richard Nixon. The former president received a full, unconditional pardon for his role in the Watergate Scandal, which resulted in his resignation. Nixon is the only former president to receive a pardon.

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4
216 111
George H. W. Bush is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
George H. W. Bush Pardons Man After $100,000 Campaign Donation

George H. W. Bush pardoned Armand Hammer for his crime of making illegal contributions to the Nixon campaign. The timing of the pardon was controversial as Hammer had contributed over $100,000 to the Republican party shortly before he was absolved of wrong-doing.

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5
165 75
Calvin Coolidge is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Calvin Coolidge Pardons German spy

Calvin Coolidge had a few controversial pardons of his own, including that of German spy Lothar Witzke. Along with spying for Germany, Witzke was involved with a 1916 bombing attack on New York Harbor that left seven dead. After being pardoned, Witzke was deported to Germany. 

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6
326 220
Donald Trump is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Donald Trump Pardons Joe Arpaio

One of Donald Trump's most controversial pardons was that of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court for illegally detaining people without reasonable evidence after being ordered to cease these practices. Civil rights groups protested the pardon as they viewed Arpaio's actions as unconstitutional attacks on immigrants.

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7
255 177
Barack Obama is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Barack Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence

In 2017, Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who was court-martialed for violating the espionage act after giving classified documents to WikiLeaks. The move allowed her to leave prison after serving only seven years of a 35-year sentence.

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8
119 59
Woodrow Wilson is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Woodrow Wilson Pardons Known Spy

Woodrow Wilson issued the only full executive pardon to someone convicted under the Espionage Act when he pardoned Frederick Krafft in 1918. Krafft was accused - and found guilty of - attempting to cause insubordination and disloyalty towards the American government and armed forces. There were multiple accounts of the incident in question and Krafft denied all charges against him.

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9
128 71
William McKinley is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
William McKinley Pardons A Corrupt Politician

Alexander McKenzie helped secure the appointments of many political figures in Alaska. He then used political favors as a way to get the same judges to take gold mines from their rightful owners and give them to him. After being ordered by a high court to return the mines to their owners, McKenzie did nothing and was eventually found guilty of contempt of court. President McKinley pardoned him in 1901 after only serving three months.

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10
145 90
Dwight D. Eisenhower is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Dwight D. Eisenhower Commutes Confessed Murderer's Sentence

Dwight D. Eisenhower's decision to commute the death sentence of Maurice Schick – who brutally murdered a young girl at a US Army camp in Japan – to life in prison without the possibility of parole went all the way to the Supreme Court. Schick alleged that "life imprisonment without parole" was unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of Eisenhower's decision. 

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11
128 76
Richard Nixon is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Richard Nixon Commutes The Sentence Of Jimmy Hoffa

Richard Nixon commuted the sentence of Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa – who was convicted of fraud and bribery – in 1971. Hoffa disappeared four years later following a meeting with known members of the mafia. He was declared legally dead in 1982.

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12
118 80
John Quincy Adams is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
John Quincy Adams Trades Pardon For Land

John Quincy Adams pardoning of Ho-Chuck leaders Wekau and Chickhonsic, who were convicted of murder, was one of the first truly controversial presidential pardons. He lifted their sentences in exchange for a land cession in 1828.

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13
99 70
Lyndon B. Johnson is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Lyndon B. Johnson Pardons Congressmen As Favor To Bobby Kennedy

Lyndon B. Johnson pardoned Congressman Frank W. Boykin – who was convicted of conspiracy and conflict of interest – upon the request of Robert F. Kennedy in 1964. 

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14
126 105
George W. Bush is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
George W. Bush Commutes Scooter Libby's Sentence

George W. Bush commuted the sentence of his assistant Lewis "Scooter" Libby – who was also Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff – for a perjury conviction associated with revealing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plume.

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15
84 63
John Tyler is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
John Tyler Pardons A Confessed Murderer

John Tyler pardoned Alexander William Holmes, who admitted to throwing several people off a lifeboat in 1841. The reason Holmes was granted a pardon is that the crew did what they did in order to lessen the load of the lifeboat and save some lives rather than forcing everyone to go down with the ship.

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16
91 72
Jimmy Carter is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Jimmy Carter Commuted G. Gordon Liddy's Sentence

Just like his predecessor Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter went easy on Watergate offenders when he commuted the sentence of G. Gordon Liddy, who led the group that broke into the DNC at the Watergate Complex. While Liddy had been sentenced to 20 years in prison, Carter released him after only four years. 

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17
68 51
Grover Cleveland is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Grover Cleveland Pardons Known Outlaw

Grover Cleveland used the power of the presidency to pardon a known associate of Billy the Kid, Billy Wilson. Wilson was arrested with a gang of outlaws after being involved in a shoot-out in White Oaks that resulted in the death of a deputy sheriff.

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61 58
Theodore Roosevelt is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Theodore Roosevelt Pardons Repeat Land Fraud Co-Conspirator

Stephen A. Douglas Puter was involved in a number of land scandals in Oregon and California. Via fraudulent claims, Puter got thousands of acres of federal land transferred to private owners in Oregon and California. He was issued a pardon in 1907 in order to become a witness for the state. His testimony led to the indictments of three of his co-conspirators.

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54 51
James Monroe is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
James Monroe Pardons Multiple Pirates

James Monroe reportedly pardoned numerous people convicted of piracy.

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67 76
James Buchanan is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
James Buchanan Pardons Brigham Young

Utah governor Brigham Young encouraged independence among residents of his state. After federal officials received information regarding obstruction of officials, President James Buchanan appointed a new governor. Young called upon his militia and withheld federal troops for several months in what was called the Utah War. Young eventually agreed to step-down and Buchanan pardoned Young for his involvement in the uprising.

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21
47 53
Andrew Jackson is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Andrew Jackson's Pardon Was Refused

Andrew Jackson's most controversial pardon wasn't contentious in and of itself, rather the problem came from the recipient's refusal to accept it. George Wilson was found guilty of robbery of the mail in 1829. Wilson refused the pardon without explaining his reasoning, and the Supreme Court ruled that it was his right to reject it. Wilson was ultimately executed by hanging.

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22
46 59
Herbert Hoover is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Herbert Hoover Pardons Indiana Governor To Send A Message To The KKK

Herbert Hoover's pardon of Indiana Governor Warren T. McCray highlighted the influence the KKK wielded in the state. McCray got himself in trouble by taking out questionable loans, but it was his vetoing of legislation supported by the KKK that led to his arrest when Indiana's Attorney General – and KKK member– filed a series of suits against him. McCray was convicted of mail fraud in 1927 and received a pardon from Hoover in 1930 after the president was informed of the Klan's role in his initial conviction.

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58 77
Ronald Reagan is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Ronald Reagan Unknowingly Pardons "Deep Throat"

FBI agent Mark Felt was convicted of ordering illegal break-ins to the homes of several members of the revolutionary,militant group the Weather Underground in 1980. President Ronald Reagan issued a pardon during Felt's appeal.  In 2005, Felt was revealed to be "Deep Throat," the informant who helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the Watergate Scandal.

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24
61 84
Ulysses S. Grant is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Ulysses S. Grant Effectively Pardoned All Members Of The Confederacy

Ulysses S. Grant effectively pardoned most members of the Confederacy when he signed the Amnesty Act in 1872. This allowed former Confederacy members to once again vote and hold office. Tensions were still high across the United States and Grant viewed the act as a way to promote unity.

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37 52
William Howard Taft is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
William Howard Tricked With False Information Into Issuing Pardon

William Howard Taft was duped by criminal banker Charles W. Morse into issuing a pardon for medical reasons in 1912 after Morse claimed to be terminally ill. It was later learned that Morse had faked his illness by ingesting soap and chemicals.

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26
42 60
Harry S. Truman is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Harry S. Truman Commutes His Own Would-Be Assassin's Sentence

Harry S. Truman used his presidential pardon power to commute the sentence of Oscar Collazo – who was found guilty of attempting to assassinate Truman – from death to life imprisonment in 1952. Collazo's sentence was further commuted to time served by Jimmy Carter in 1979 and he was able to return to Puerto Rico.

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38 59
George Washington is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
George Washington Gives First Pardon To Men Convicted Of Treason

George Washington famously pardoned Philip Vigol and John Mitchel, who were convicted of treason for their roles in the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s. They were the first two people to receive presidential pardons.

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30 47
James K. Polk is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
James K. Polk Pardons Man Who Goes On To Run For President

John C. Frémont was the first-ever Republican candidate for president. Prior to that, he was pardoned by James Polk regarding a charge of mutiny.

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31 59
Benjamin Harrison is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Benjamin Harrison Provides Amnesty To Polygamists

In 1893, Benjamin Harrison pardoned members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for engaging in polygamous marriages in the past. He also offered the members amnesty in the United States. The proclamation, however, included a stipulation that polygamy laws must be followed in the future.

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30
17 41
Martin Van Buren is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Martin Van Buren Risks British Diplomacy Pardoning William Lyon Mackenzie

Canadian politician William Lyon Mackenzie was convicted of violating American neutrality laws in 1839. Martin Van Buren pardoned him in 1840, a move which was controversial in that it risked offending the British as Mackenzie had been public critical of Great Britain for quite some time. 

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31
20 47
James Madison is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
James Madison Remitted The Sentence Of An Army General

Michigan Territory Governor William Hull was court-martialed after surrendering Fort Detroit to the British in 1812 and convicted of cowardice and neglect of duty. James Madison pardoned him, abolishing his sentence of being shot.

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16 47
Zachary Taylor is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Zachary Taylor Pardoned A Man Convicted Of Assault At Sea

In 1849, Zachary Taylor pardoned William H. Green, who had been convicted of assault on the high seas. 

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18 52
Abraham Lincoln is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Abraham Lincoln Commutes Civil War Defender's Sentence

Clement Vallandigham greatly opposed the Civil War and he spoke out against leadership's decisions at every opportunity. In 1863, he was convicted of disloyalty and sentenced to confinement in a military prison for the remainder of the war. Lincoln commuted his sentenced and allowed Vallandigham to be deported to the Confederate lines.

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34
15 49
Thomas Jefferson is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Thomas Jefferson Pardons All Sedition Act Violators

Thomas Jefferson pardoned every person convicted under the Sedition Act, which made "false, scandalous and malicious writing" towards elected officials illegal. David Brown – who received the harshest sentence under the act – was among those pardoned by Jefferson.

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35
16 52
Warren Harding is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Warren Harding Pardons Vocal Anti-War Socialist

Kate Richards O'Hare was arrested for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 after making a vehement anti-war speech in North Dakota. While she was sentenced to five years in prison for her actions, Warren Harding pardoned her in 1921. 

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36
17 55
William Henry Harrison is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
William Henry Harrison Grants No Pardons

William Henry Harrison offered no pardons during his brief presidency in 1841.

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37
24 72
John F. Kennedy is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
John F. Kennedy Pardons 100 First Time Offenders Convicted Under The 1956 Narcotics Control Act

The Narcotics Control Act of 1956 led to many convictions for minor drug crimes and forced people to serve lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. President John F. Kennedy disagreed with this method of tackling the drug problem and he pardoned 100 first time offenders serving time due to Act.

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14 50
John Adams is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
John Adams Pardons Whiskey Rebellion Participant

John Adams followed his predecessor's (George Washington) lead in pardoning a participant of the Whiskey Rebellion, a tax protest against George Washington. He pardoned David Bradford in 1799.

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39
13 49
Rutherford B. Hayes is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Rutherford B. Hayes Pardons Comstock Act Violator

In 1878, anarchist and abolitionist Ezra Heywood was convicted of violating the Comstock Act, which prohibited printing obscene material. President Hayes was convinced to pardon him after a grassroots movement of free speech advocates rallied for Heywood's release.

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14 53
Franklin D. Roosevelt is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Franklin D. Roosevelt Pardons Well Known Bootlegger

Franklin D. Roosevelt's pardon of bootlegger Roy Olmstead was noteworthy because the case had previously made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Olmstead alleged that law enforcement's usage of wiretaps to prove that he was illegally distributing alcohol was a violation of his civil rights. The Supreme Court upheld the 1926 conviction of Olmstead and he served four years in prison. Roosevelt's pardon in 1935 restored Olmstead's constitutional rights and freed him from having to pay over $10,000 in fines and court fees.

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11 47
Chester A. Arthur is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Chester A. Arthur Pardons Bull Run Officer

Chester A. Arthur reversed the sentence of Army officer Fitz John Porter. Porter was court-martialed for failing to follow orders during the Second Battle of Bull Run, which marked a devastating loss for the Union. When evidence emerged showing Porter was unfairly scapegoated for the loss, Arthur allowed Porter to rejoin the army. 

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11 59
James A. Garfield is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
James A. Garfield Offers No Pardons

James A. Garfield offered zero pardons during his time in office. He was assassinated in 1881 after serving less than a year as President of the United States.

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11 67
Millard Fillmore is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Millard Fillmore Pardons Abolitionists

Prior to the Civil War, Millard Fillmore pardoned Daniel Drayton and Edward Sayres for their role in helping 77 slaves attempt to escape from Washington DC to the free state of New Jersey in 1848. Two years later the slave trade was abolished in DC and in 1852 Drayton and Sayres were pardoned.

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44
11 80
Franklin Pierce is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Every President's Most Controversial Pardon, Ranked
Franklin Pierce Pardons Underground Railroad Participant

Franklin Pierce was the only president to pardon a black person for helping slaves escape in conjunction with the Underground Railroad. He pardon Noah Hanson in 1854 for his role in assisting slaves in 1851.

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