Saturday, October 10, 2015

What Forgiveness is For

Today, on Historia Obscura, there is an excellent new article by Pam Keyes:

It introduces two new characters to the tale of Jean Laffite:  George Poindexter and Fulwar Skipwith. As I am a bit of a name fancier, I am fascinated by the name "Fulwar Skipwith", and I have every expectation of learning more about him in future installments.

But for now, here is what it is good to know about pardons:

  • Pardons are not usually issued after someone has done a good turn. In many cases, they have to be issued in advance, so that a person under arrest or in prison can go forth and do good. This was the case for the Baratarian privateers.
  • Sometimes a pardon is just a roundabout way of admitting that what you accused or convicted someone of is not true. The Baratarians were smugglers and privateers, not pirates.
  • The great value of the pardon to the person issuing it is that he may now resume a regular relationship with the person pardoned.
  • We do not pardon people and then banish them. We do not pardon people and then execute them. Pardoning is not in order to calm the anxiety of the person who felt wronged -- it is so that the person pardoned can become part of regular society, and can contribute and serve.
George Poindexter did not appear to understand these elementary facts about how pardons work,  because he tried to get the government to retroactively take back pardons that were already issued. If the Baratarians had not been pardoned, they could not have served in the Battle of New Orleans. It may have been that the anticipated service was necessary to take full advantage of the pardon, but no service could have been rendered had the presidential pardon not already existed.

Today, we hear people say things like: "I do not forgive for the other person's sake. I do it for my own sake, so that I can know inner peace. I forgive, but I do not forget, and I don't ever need to see them again." Forgiveness is a spontaneous emotion, but like all emotions it serves a function: to rehabilitate people, so that we can work with them.  To forgive people, and then to refuse to have anything to do with them again is not forgiveness. 


  1. This is a good point about forgiveness, Aya. I never understood the I forgive but do not forget. This to me seems a bit passive aggressive like the person is bestowing some sort of gratitude upon the person that has done a wrong, but then they reserve the right to get mad at them at a future date.

    1. Thanks, Julia. It is a passive-aggressive stance, just as you say. The odd thing about it is that if you call people on that, they get very huffy.