Special Report

Presidents With the Most Pardons

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The U.S. Constitution grants the president the power to pardon any individual who has committed a federal crime and set aside his or her punishment. A pardon is one form of the president’s clemency powers, the others being the ability to commute a sentence, remit or restitute a fine, and delay punishment. Pardons do not always get people out of prison. Some are given after a sentence has already been served, to clear people’s records and restore their rights.

The president’s power to pardon is largely unrestrained, and presidents are free to pardon any federal crime. However, certain pardon powers are still legally murky. President Donald Trump claimed that he could pardon himself, but it was never put to the test in court, and legal scholars are divided on the issue.

The ability to pardon theoretically exists to correct injustices or forgive someone deemed worthy of forgiveness. However, many of the clemencies often feel more like favors among political cronies than benevolent acts of grace. Of course, presidents must live with the potential political consequences of their actions for themselves and their political parties. For this reason, many presidents wait until the end of their time in office to carry out their most controversial acts of clemency. (The ability to pardon is one of many of the best perks of being president of the United States.)

To determine the presidents with the most pardons, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on clemency from the Department of Justice Office of the Pardon Attorney. Presidents were ranked based on the total number of pardons they granted during their terms. We excluded pardons granted by proclamation, such as President Jimmy Carter’s proclamation granting clemency to various Vietnam era offenders. The DOJ only tracks presidential pardons starting with President William McKinley, therefore no presidents prior to McKinely are on this list.

The presidents on this list used their powers for a wide variety of reasons, and we noted some of the most intriguing and eyebrow-raising acts. These include a president tricked into granting clemency, a president who both gave and received pardons, and multiple instances of presidents commuting death sentences to life in prison. (Also check out the most surprising facts about every president.)

Click here to see the presidents with the most pardons

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22. Joseph R. Biden
> Pardons granted: 0
> Commutations granted: 0
> Total requests for clemency received: 5,508
> Term: 2021-present

President Joe Biden has not yet issued any pardons but has already received a considerable number of requests for clemency. The Biden administration has begun the process of granting clemency to inmates released early due to pandemic-related conditions in penitentiaries.

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21. George H.W. Bush
> Pardons granted: 74
> Commutations granted: 3
> Total requests for clemency received: 1,466
> Term: 1989-1993

In December 1992, close to the end of his term, President George H.W. Bush pardoned six individuals who had taken part in the Iran-Contra affair under President Ronald Reagan, when Bush was vice president. The scandal involved senior administration officials secretly facilitating the sale of arms to Iran despite the arms embargo. Elliot Abrams, Caspar Weinberger, and others received pardons for unlawfully withholding information and perjury.

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20. Donald J. Trump
> Pardons granted: 144
> Commutations granted: 94
> Total requests for clemency received: 12,078
> Term: 2007-2021

Trump pardoned several of his close political allies, including Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Steve Bannon. Some of their crimes were conspiracy to obstruct justice, making false statements, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

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19. George W. Bush
> Pardons granted: 189
> Commutations granted: 11
> Total requests for clemency received: 11,074
> Term: 2001-2009

Bush’s last-minute pardons included rapper John Forte, who was serving a lengthy prison sentence for smuggling liquid cocaine through Newark, New Jersey’s international airport.

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18. Barack H. Obama
> Pardons granted: 212
> Commutations granted: 1,715
> Total requests for clemency received: 36,544
> Term: 2009-2017

Cyber leaks became a major issue for the government during President Barack Obama’s time in office. Chelsea Manning leaked sensitive information to WikiLeaks and received a 35-year prison sentence, which was later commuted by Obama.

17. William McKinley
> Pardons granted: 291
> Commutations granted: 123
> Total requests for clemency received: 1,473
> Term: 1897-1901

In 1901, William McKinley pardoned Alexander McKenzie. McKenzie was a powerful politician in North Dakota who used his influence to seize control of gold mines in Nome, Alaska. A court later ruled he had to return the mines and gold, but he refused and was eventually convicted for contempt of court.

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16. Warren Harding
> Pardons granted: 300
> Commutations granted: 386
> Total requests for clemency received: 2,461
> Term: 1921-1923

Kate Richards O’Hare was a socialist activist who received a five-year sentence in 1919 for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 by making a speech opposing U.S. involvement in World War I. President Warren Harding pardoned her in 1920 after a national campaign for her release.

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15. Gerald R. Ford
> Pardons granted: 382
> Commutations granted: 22
> Total requests for clemency received: 1,527
> Term: 1974-1977

President Gerald Ford presumptively pardoned disgraced former President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate Scandal. Ford had been Nixon’s vice president until taking over when Nixon resigned.

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14. William H. Taft
> Pardons granted: 383
> Commutations granted: 361
> Total requests for clemency received: 2,111
> Term: 1909-1913

President William H. Taft was swindled into pardoning imprisoned banker Charles W. Morse. Morse lobbied for clemency and then drank chemicals to feign chronic illness, convincing Taft to pardon him before he died in prison.

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13. Ronald Reagan
> Pardons granted: 393
> Commutations granted: 13
> Total requests for clemency received: 3,404
> Term: 1981-1989

Reagan pardoned FBI special agent Mark Felt for illegally breaking into the homes of individuals thought to be connected to the Weather Underground, a radical left wing militant organization. Unbeknownst to Reagan, Felt was “Deep Throat,” the man responsible for leaking information about the Watergate scandal to the press.

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12. William J. Clinton
> Pardons granted: 396
> Commutations granted: 61
> Total requests for clemency received: 7,489
> Term: 1993-2001

President Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich on his last day in office. Rich was a businessman on the run for a list of financial crimes, including tax evasion, wire fraud, and racketeering. Shortly before the pardon, Rich’s ex-wife donated more than $1 million to the Democratic Party and Clinton’s foundation.

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11. John F. Kennedy
> Pardons granted: 472
> Commutations granted: 100
> Total requests for clemency received: 1,749
> Term: 1961-1963

Hampton Hawes was a jazz pianist who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for possession of heroin. While in prison, he submitted an official request for a presidential pardon, and in 1963, JFK granted his request.

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10. Jimmy Carter
> Pardons granted: 534
> Commutations granted: 29
> Total requests for clemency received: 2,627
> Term: 1977-1981

G. Gordon Liddy played a major role in organizing the operation that would lead to the Watergate scandal. Liddy was convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping, but President Jimmy Carter commuted his 20-year sentence to eight years.

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9. Theodore Roosevelt
> Pardons granted: 668
> Commutations granted: 363
> Total requests for clemency received: 4,513
> Term: 1901-1909

Stephen Douglas Puter and associates illegally transferred thousands of acres of land given to the Oregon and California railroad into their own control. President Theodore Roosevelt pardoned Puter who then turned into a witness against others involved in the scandal.

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8. Herbert Hoover
> Pardons granted: 672
> Commutations granted: 405
> Total requests for clemency received: 4,774
> Term: 1929-1933

In the 1920s, Indiana Gov. Warren McCray ran into conflict with the Ku Klux Klan. During this time, he began to have financial troubles and got a questionable loan from the government. The Indiana attorney general, a KKK member, soon brought charges against him for mail fraud, and he was later convicted. President Herbert Hoover pardoned him in 1930.

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7. Calvin Coolidge
> Pardons granted: 773
> Commutations granted: 773
> Total requests for clemency received: 8,046
> Term: 1923-1929

Lothar Witzke was a German spy operating in the United States and Mexico during World War I. He was captured at the border between the countries and sentenced to death. However, the war ended before the execution was carried out and President Calvin Coolidge eventually pardoned him.

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6. Richard M. Nixon
> Pardons granted: 863
> Commutations granted: 60
> Total requests for clemency received: 2,591
> Term: 1969-1974

Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa was known for having connections to the mob and was convicted of wire fraud and bribery. Nixon commuted his 13-year sentence in 1971. Hoffa disappeared in 1975 and was eventually assumed murdered.

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5. Lyndon B. Johnson
> Pardons granted: 960
> Commutations granted: 226
> Total requests for clemency received: 4,537
> Term: 1963-1969

Frank Boykin was an influential congressman from Alabama. He was convicted of several crimes, including conspiracy and conflict of interest related to murky land deals in Maryland and Virginia. President Lyndon B. Johnson pardoned Boykin at the request of departing Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.

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4. Woodrow Wilson
> Pardons granted: 1,087
> Commutations granted: 1,366
> Total requests for clemency received: 7,454
> Term: 1913-1921

Frederick Krafft was one of the political activists who were convicted under the 1917 Espionage Act for supposed anti-war comments in 1918. He was sentenced to five years in federal penitentiary and fined $1,000. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson gave Krafft a full pardon.

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3. Dwight D. Eisenhower
> Pardons granted: 1,110
> Commutations granted: 47
> Total requests for clemency received: 4,100
> Term: 1953-1961

In 1954, Master Sgt. Maurice Schick was convicted of murdering a nine-year-old girl at a military camp in Japan. He was sentenced to death, but President Dwight D. Eisenhower commuted his sentence to confinement with hard labor for the rest of his life.

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2. Harry S. Truman
> Pardons granted: 1,913
> Commutations granted: 118
> Total requests for clemency received: 5,030
> Term: 1945-1953

Oscar Collazo was a Puerto Rican militant fighting for Puerto Rico’s independence. He attempted to assassinate President Harry S. Truman in 1950 but failed. He was sentenced to death for his actions, but Truman commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

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1. Franklin D. Roosevelt
> Pardons granted: 2,819
> Commutations granted: 488
> Total requests for clemency received: 13,541
> Term: 1933-1945

Roy Olmstead was one of the largest bootleggers in the Pacific Northwest during the Prohibition era. He was eventually convicted and served his full sentence of four years. However, in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt granted him a full presidential pardon, restoring his rights and invalidating the $100,000 in unpaid liquor taxes the IRS said he owed.

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