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Discretionary JusticePardon and Parole in New York from the Revolution to the Depression$
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Carolyn Strange

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781479899920

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479899920.001.0001

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Debating the Pardon in Antebellum New York

Debating the Pardon in Antebellum New York

(p.61) 3 Debating the Pardon in Antebellum New York
Discretionary Justice

Carolyn Strange

NYU Press

Although New York had acquired its nickname, the Empire State, by the 1820s, the term carried different meanings to citizens who shared unequally in its profits. The state constitutional conventions of 1821 and 1846 advanced the scope of democracy. However, this chapter explains how constitutional reform also elevated the governor as the sole arbiter of discretionary justice. Despite a growing body of early social scientific research that showed mercy to be dependent on governors’ individual inclinations, the chief executive’s prerogative held firm, demonstrating its capacity to rectify injustice: first, in undoing a disastrous experiment with solitary punishment at Auburn State Prison in the 1820s, and second, in commuting the sentences of anti-rent protestors in the 1840s. Democracy and executive justice proved compatible.

Keywords:   mercy, pardon, constitutional conventions, penitentiaries, anti-rent movement, New York

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