Monday, November 2, 2015

Amnesty, Clemency, Pardon

Aware that the Western Fictioneers first annual convention was taking place in St. Louis, I thought my first Monday of the month blog spot may be needed for the inaugural official report. Having received no authoritative instruction to my query, and unable to attend the convention this year, I wondered what I should do about the blog. 

Well, the universe provides. My plot for Fugitive Sheriff is currently at the point where he is worried that the man who shot his father will escape the firing squad for political reasons. His worries start with a concern about the Governor’s Amnesty list on Christmas Eve, 1886. 

A fair amount of research into the meaning of amnesty and clemency and pardon led to the development of an internal smile thinking about the rowdy crew in St. Louis and all the e-mail traffic that preceded the Western Fictioneers convention. Assuming everyone who wrote stayed true, individually and as a group, to the tone of the e-mails, I started to have a vision of learning something that would prove useful information to my WF Convention colleagues.

So, with a slight tip of the fanciful hat and the belief that knowledge of which forgiveness to ask for will provide a safety net for all manner of rambunctious behavior and with an honest wish that no one in St. Louis will really need to apply for amnesty, seek clemency, or ask for a pardon, here are a few insights.


is a pardon extended by the government to a group or class of persons, usually for a political offense; officially forgiving certain classes of persons who are subject to trial but have not yet been convicted.  It encompasses more than pardon and is more and more used to express "freedom" and the time when prisoners can go free.

So, for those of you Western Fictioneers who get to having too much fun, I hereby implore whatever authority in St. Louis is willing to take it on to grant pardon to the large group of individuals known as Western Fictioneers – give them amnesty.


provides the meaning to the granting of a pardon. Clemency is the act of mercy or lenience that moderates the severity of the punishment due. Moderation has many degrees, the most extreme of which is complete leniency toward the punishment.

We all benefit from Google Search and Wikipedia. If you search on "clemency" you’ll find that it redirects to Pardon. (It is not, however, a synonym for pardon.)


The action of an executive official of the government that mitigates or sets aside the punishment for a crime.

Note that a pardon requires an executive to grant it. Some legislatures and some pardon boards also grant, but if you look into the act that enables them, it is a delegated power. To pardon, you have to be the president or a governor.

The power to pardon applies only to offenses against the laws of the jurisdiction of which the pardoning official is the chief executive. Thus the president may only pardon for violations of federal law, and governors may only pardon for violations of the laws of their states.

The granting of a pardon to a person who has committed and been convicted of a crime is an act of clemency, forgiving the wrongdoer and restoring the person's civil rights.

The power to grant a pardon derives from the English system. The king had the royal prerogative, the right to forgive crimes against the crown.

A president or governor may grant a full (unconditional) pardon – fully restores an individual's civil rights and innocence as though he or she had never committed a crime.

A conditional pardon imposes a condition before it becomes effective. For example, to commute a death sentence the president may set the condition that the accused serve the rest of his or her life in prison without eligibility for parole; whereas, a life sentence imposed by a court would otherwise be subject to parole.

A pardon does not imply innocence. It is merely a forgiveness of the offense. Unless explicitly stated that the recipient was innocent, since it must be affirmatively accepted to be officially recognized by the courts, acceptance carries with it an admission of guilt. One cannot be pardoned unless one has committed an offense. A pardon can be rejected.

Presidential Pardons

My interests lie in a Governor’s Christmas List and I found it frustrating to notice that most of my search results came back oriented to the pardons and pardon power of the President. One aspect of presidential pardons is of interest: Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the power to pardon offenses against the United States "except in the cases of impeachment." Gerald Ford pardoned before the possible conviction (impeachment) of Nixon. Also, governors typically have to wait until after a conviction to pardon, presidents can pardon prior to conviction.

The presidents who served from Grant through the second term of Grover Cleveland granted 5,389 pardons or commutations.  I created a table but could not master the HTML to get it in this blog, so I will simply note one among them:  Benjamin Harrison granted amnesty and pardon to the Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the offense of engaging in polygamous or plural marriage.    

Governors’ Pardons

I have not yet succeeded in finding list of pardons by Governors. Two notable pardons by governors I did find. 

Governor Joseph Johnson of Virginia pardoned the twenty year-old John S. Mosby on December 23, 1853, the same Mosby of Mosby’s Rangers (or Raiders) for Virginia during the civil war under J.E.B. Stuart.  In fact, Northern Virginia became known as Mosby's Confederacy.

Perhaps better known, Bob Ford arranged with the governor of Missouri to take down Jesse James in exchange for a reward. After the Fords announced they had killed the infamous outlaw, they were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. The governor quickly pardoned them.

I’m looking for more. I’m still trying to get my Fugitive Sheriff past Christmas, 1886, but this has turned out to be a fascinating new area of interest for me.

(One final note on both sources of pardons, it appears that pardons have been on the decline, certainly since World War II.  The question yet to answer is whether they are at a higher or lower level than in the West before 1900.)

E-mail Edward Massey with comments, author of 2014 Gold Quill winner, Every Soul Is Free and Amazon ABNA 2009 Quarter-finalist, Telluride Promise.