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Pardon Records

The Constitution provides the President the sole power to grant pardons for offenses against the United States. Throughout the history of the United States, the President has exercised this power with the advice and assistance of various officials and executive departments in the federal government. 

The National Archives at College Park holds various records documenting the administration of the pardon process. Records relating to pardons can be found primarily in Record Group 204: Records of the Office of the Pardon Attorney and Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, which are described below.

Record Group 204: Records of the Office of the Pardon Attorney

Since 1853, the responsibility for making recommendations to the President on petitions for pardon has rested with the Attorney General. Various offices have assisted the Attorney General in carrying out these duties and administering the pardon process: the Office of the Pardon Clerk (1865-1870), the Office of the Attorney in Charge of Pardons (1891-1894), and the Office of the Pardon Attorney (1894 to present).

Pardon Case Files provide the primary documentation of the pardon process. There is a gap in the records from 1947 to 1956. From 1956 to 1999, we hold some requests for clemency, applications, and correspondence files. 

The case files include applications for executive clemency; letters of recommendation and character references; correspondence with Congress, state officials, and other interested parties; reports from courts and federal law enforcement agencies; recommendations from the Pardon Attorney to the Attorney General and from the Attorney General to the President; and the receipt for the pardon warrant.

Pardon records are generally arranged by case file number, and you can locate files for particular individuals using these indexes: 

After 1977, we require the pardon case file number directly from the Department of Justice. The only exception to this is for the Case Files for Significant Pardon Cases, 1925 - 1999 (Entry P 2), which are name-searchable.

Since the actual pardons are sent directly to the petitioner, the National Archives does not hold the originals. You can find copies of pardon warrants in the following series:

Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State

Prior to 1853, the Attorney General and the Department of State shared the responsibility for making pardon recommendations to the President. During this time, the State Department managed the administrative work and maintained the pardon records. Most of these responsibilities transitioned to the Attorney General in 1853; however, the State Department continued to issue pardon warrants until 1893.

The National Archives holds Department of State pardon files from 1789 to 1853 and copies of pardon warrants from 1793 to 1893 in the following series:

You can locate pardon records for particular individuals using the Registers and Indexes for Pardons, 1793 - 1871 (Entry A1 896).

Additional pardon records are available in our State Department holdings, including records related to pardons and amnesty for Confederate individuals.