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From Nixon to Flynn, a rich and sometimes controversial history of presidential pardons

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President Trump’s full pardon Wednesday of his former national security adviser Michael Flynn brought to end a four-year legal saga and extended a colorful legacy of presidential clemency that dates to America's first commander in chief.

The very first pardons granted by an American president took place in 1795 under George Washington, who pardoned two men for their participation in protests known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington had decided to tax whiskey to help pay the debt from the Revolutionary War. A group of farmers who were hurt by the tax engaged in violent protests. Two of them, who were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging for treason, were the first two people to be pardoned in the new United States of America. Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s Treasury Secretary, strongly opposed the pardon.

On Christmas Day in 1868, President Andrew Johnson granted full pardons and amnesty “for the offense of treason” to all soldiers who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. He believed that this would help heal the nation’s wounds from a war that had seen more than 600,000 Americans die from combat, accidents, starvation and disease.

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