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The politics of pardon has been generating controversies over the years. But it is one of the numerous powers bestowed on the President of the United States of America.  

Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution explained that the president has the power to grant pardons for offenses against the U.S., but not in cases of impeachment. 

We have witnessed presidents grant pardons and commutations to individuals convicted of drug-related crimes, wire fraud, and so on. 

But then, when a new president assumes office and discovers their predecessor had granted pardons and commutations that attracted public criticism, can anything be done to rescind the pardons? 

Let’s put it this way.

Can a presidential pardon be reversed?

Firstly, bear in mind that the pardon power the president possesses is limited to only federal crimes. In other words, the president can only issue pardons or commutations for crimes against the United States of America. 

On the other hand, neither the president nor the court can force an individual to accept a pardon. And when a president issues a pardon, the recipient has to acknowledge it. 

If a president issues a pardon, but fails to deliver it, then it won’t take effect. This implies that a new president or the one that issued the pardon can revoke it. 

There have been several cases where pardons were revoked. But keep in mind that those were never delivered. Thus, they were not active. 

There has never been a time where an implemented presidential pardon got revoked. So, once implemented or accepted, a presidential pardon becomes effective. The court or congress cannot revoke it. 

But if the pardon wasn’t accepted, another president has the power to revoke it. 

Keep reading as we shed more light on presidential pardons. 

Has A U.S. President Ever Revoked A Pardon?

Pardons are irrevocable once implemented. In other words, the court or legislature cannot overturn a pardon. However, the recipient of a pardon might be denied some benefits. But that can’t happen without legal proceedings. 

Here are some cases where presidential pardons got reversed. 

#1: President Andrew Johnson’s revoked pardon:

The Congressional Research Service provided details of the first-ever revoked pardon in 1869. And President Andrew Johnson was the first to take such an action. 

Before leaving office, President Andrew Johnson granted a pardon to a recipient that was supposed to spend a year in prison. But when President Ulysses S. Grant took over, he revoked the pardon. 

A federal high court upheld the president’s decision to revoke the pardon and that made matters worse. 

The judge handling the case explained the position of the law on presidential pardons, including why President Ulysses’ revocation of the former president’s pardon was upheld. 

The judge made it clear that presidential pardons are irreversible once complete. In other words, when a pardon is issued and accepted, no power can revoke it. But when it’s not complete, another president can veto it. 

The then outgoing U.S. President, Andrew Johnson, made a mistake by not delivering the pardon. And because he didn’t, incoming president, Ulysses S. Grant, had the power to revoke it, and he did. 

#2: President George W. Bush Revoked Pardon:

George W. Bush was the second president in the United States’ political history to have rescinded a pardon. 

But don’t get confused yet. It was evident the pardon hadn’t been delivered. And because it wasn’t yet complete, any incoming or outgoing president can revoke it.   

President George W. Bush issued the pardon and withdrew it similarly. He pardoned 37 years old Isaac Toussie, but he and his adviser later changed their minds. 

Why did George W. Bush reverse Isaac Toussie’s presidential pardon? It was because he learned that Isaac’s father had contributed $30,800 to the Republicans. 

Other than President Andrew Johnson and George W. Bush, no other president has revoked a pardon. But we all know politics is full of surprises. Things can change in the future, and other presidents may want to take the same actions as Andrew Johnson and George W. Bush. 

It is also crucial to remember that both presidents could only reverse the various pardons because they were not yet delivered. If they had been delivered, they wouldn’t have been able to reverse the pardons.

United States President That Granted The Most Pardons

The U.S. President has the power to grant pardons to individuals convicted of any federal crime. And excitingly, past presidents have used this power to their satisfaction, but not without public backlash. 

Many previous presidents have issued pardons in frightening figures. Now let’s revisit the history books to find out the president that tops this list. 

#1: Franklin Delano Roosevelt:   

FDR, as fondly called, was America’s longest-serving president. He remains the only U.S. president elected to the office four times, a historic feat he’s set to keep. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt led the United States of America out of the biggest crises recorded in the 20th century – The great depression and World War II. He was president from 1933 to 1945. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued 2819 pardons and a record 488 commutations during his reign. 

#2: President Harry Truman: 

The United States of America’s 33rd President, Harry Truman, succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt after his death. Then, Harry Truman was only sixty years old. But his achievements in office are worth discussing. 

Harry Truman was credited with ending World War II by dropping the Atomic bomb on Japanese soil. He’s also widely known for the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, and the Korean War. 

Americans will always remember President Harry Truman for many things. But one they might not forget in a hurry is the number of pardons and commutations he granted. 

It was almost like Harry Truman was trying to copy his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt. He issued 1913 pardons, including 118 commutations. He only served from 1945 to 1953. 

#3: President Barack Obama:

President Barack Obama will always be remembered as the first African American U.S. President. 

He recorded various achievements while in office, including ordering and killing Osama Bin Laden, rescuing America from the great recession, negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, etc. 

And to this day, Obama is the third president to issue the most pardons and commutations. He gave 212 pardons, including 1715 commutations. President Barack Obama served as president from 2009 to 2017.   


Can a presidential pardon be reversed? A president can reverse a pardon in some circumstances. However, once a pardon has been delivered, no one can reverse it. 

The court or congress doesn’t have the power to reverse a presidential pardon that has been delivered. And presidents can only issue pardons for federal crimes. That is a crime against the United States of America.