Happy Bastille Day!
On this day 221 years ago, revolutionaries stormed a prison and, as they say in History 101, the modern world began. Of course, so did a Reign of Terror which “produced a far larger number of political prisoners than were ever confined in the Bastille or anywhere else in prerevolutionary France. Generally, however, their imprisonment did not endure long: they were either killed or freed” (Aryeh Neier, “Confining Dissent,” The Oxford History of the Prison, p. 353).
Traditionally, the French president would grant a mass pardon every July 14, but President Sarkozy has discontinued the practice. In that respect, he is not dissimilar from his American counterpart. Although historically most U.S. presidents have used their executive clemency powers within 100 days of their inauguration, Obama recently reached his 536th day in office without granting a single pardon or commutation — surpassing John Adams and catapulting into third place on the list of presidents who have waited the longest. Nos. 1 and 2 are George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Bookmark Pardon Power, an excellent blog on all things executive clemency run by Professor P.S. Ruckman, and you’ll be sure to find out if and when Obama decides to exercise his constitutionally granted powers of mercy.