Three decades before statehood, when Washington was still a rugged frontier in the Pacific Northwest, Isaac Stevens, the first governor of the territory, ordered farmers who were married to Native Americans to leave a certain area. The court system in the territory was only three years old, but one court decided to look into the order. In response, Stevens closed the court and declared martial law. When judges tried to open their courts, the governor had the judges arrested.
Eventually, U.S. President Franklin Pierce scolded Stevens, and a judge fined him for contempt of court. To clear his name and possibly avoid the fine (accounts vary), the governor pardoned himself. “I, Isaac I. Stevens, governor of the said territory, by virtue of the authority vested in me as governor,” he wrote in the declaration, “do hereby respite the said Isaac I. Stevens, defendant, from execution of said judgment.”
The Stevens case, from 1856, is perhaps the most egregious one where a United States politician granted himself a pardon—a release from the penalty of an offense. President Donald Trump has questioned his advisers about his authority to pardon himself, The Washington Post reported July 21, citing an unnamed source.
No president has ever done so (Richard Nixon came close), but a handful of governors have. Those gubernatorial cases could provide a precedent if Trump chooses to pardon himself.