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PRESIDENTIAL PARDONS AND THE CONSTITUTION On one historical fact every historian agrees The Founders of this nation did not want a king But because most of them did want a powerful executive they looked to the model of the English monarchy for guidance They discarded some kingly powers such as unlimited control of appointments and chose the ones they thought most suitable--including the unlimited power to pardon They were confident they had constructed the office well Indeed Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers predicted the presidency would be filled by characters preeminent for ability and virtue This assumption though quickly proved false makes the pardoning power seem less reckless More important to them however were the troubled times of the 18th century riddled with class warfare particularly in England Not accidentally it was also a time of brutal criminal law in which nearly every offense--theft forgery poaching--was a capital crime While juries regularly tempered the laws cruelty by refusing to convict huge numbers of English subjects were routinely sentenced to be hanged The kings pardon supported even by conservative Parliamentarians like Edmund Burke moderated the law when necessary to retain popular support As historian Douglas Hay argued in his study of 18th century crime The law was important as gross coercion it was equally important as ideology Its majesty justice and mercy helped to create the spirit of consent and submission that maintained the loyalty of the English poor Royal pardons wrote Hay were presented as acts of grace rather than as favours to interests Or as William Blackstone wrote in his definitive commentaries on English law These repeated acts of goodness had the effect of endearing the sovereign to his subjects and contributed more than anything to root in their hearts that filial affection and personal loyalty which are the sure establishment of a prince Thats the theory anyway In their search for a well-ordered government overseeing a
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