The ability of a president to pardon anyone is extremely broad according to the constitution, but fraught with danger as far as public opinion is concerned.
Lately, there has been a great deal of controversy in the news about whether or not President Trump will pardon Paul Manafort.
He argues that he has the right, but he has not said whether he will or not, causing all sorts of speculation among political pundits.
Although I learned about presidential pardons in high school Civics class (which sadly is no longer taught in schools but certainly should be) I remembered very little about how often pardons are used by the various presidents, so I decided to re-educate myself by checking the internet.
I discovered that it has been used by virtually every president that has held office.
One of the most interesting and perhaps most controversial was when Abraham Lincoln pardoned his sister-in-law, Emily Todd Helm.
Emily was Mary Todd Lincoln's half-sister and a favorite relative of Lincoln's. She had married Benjamin Helm, a Kentuckian.
Lincoln had great respect for Helm, a West Point and Harvard graduate.
When the Civil War broke out after the southern states seceded, Lincoln had offered Helm a position in the United States Army, but Helm felt he had to stay true to his southern roots and turned him down, opting instead to join the Confederate Army.
He led a group of Kentuckians known as the Orphan Brigade because, although Kentucky had tried to remain neutral in the conflict, they were forced to make a choice after the Confederate Army invaded their state.
Eventually Kentucky sided with the north. Therefore, those who sided with the south could not return to their home state during the war.
Benjamin Helm was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, leaving a young widow. After his death, she made her way through Union lines to the White House and her sister Mary.
The Lincolns had recently lost their son, Willie. The two women, who had always  been close, now found great comfort in each other, and Lincoln welcomed Emily, thinking she might help his wife, who was suffering from depression and mental confusion.
However, he tried to keep her presence in the White house a secret, knowing the press would say he was “harboring the enemy.”
General Daniel Sickles, who had recently been wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, happened to come to the White House on a military matter and discovered Emily's presence.
He cautioned Lincoln, saying he should not have a rebel in his house.
Lincoln's reply was, “General Sickles, my wife and I are in the habit of choosing our own guests. We do not need from our friends either advice or assistance in the matter.”
That seemed to be the end of the controversy and Emily Helm remained a guest at the White House until Lincoln issued a pardon for her. Then she returned to her home in Kentucky.