Joe Biden, as the president, possesses the ultimate authority to grant pardons to criminals as he sees fit, and he has exercised this authority for numerous convicted individuals. However, it has come to light that Biden has a different connection to presidential pardons, one that dates back to the Civil War era. The Liberal Washington Post reported that this lesser-known piece of Biden family history remained concealed for 160 years within the National Archives’ extensive collection of court-martial cases until researchers recently brought it to light.
These researchers revealed that Biden’s great-great-grandfather, Moses J. Robinette, served as a civilian employee for the Union Army during the Civil War. Historical government documents indicate that Robinette was employed as a veterinary surgeon around 1862 or 1863 and was tasked with maintaining the readiness of the Army of the Potomac’s reserve artillery horses and mules for combat.
On March 21, 1864, Robinette became involved in a dispute with another civilian worker named John J. Alexander. It seems that Biden’s ancestor had been discussing Alexander with a female cook, which led to Alexander confronting Robinette about the rumors. The situation escalated into a physical altercation, during which an allegedly intoxicated Robinette brandished a pocketknife.
The fight concluded with Alexander sustaining multiple cuts and Robinette being taken into custody. He faced charges of provoking a “dangerous quarrel” and assault with “intent to kill” due to his use of a weapon. At his trial, the president’s great-great-grandfather asserted that he had acted in self-defense.
A transcript of the trial shows that he insisted “I had no malice towards Mr. Alexander before or since. He grabbed me and possibly might have injured me seriously had I not resorted to the means that I did.”
Despite this, Robinette was convicted on all charges except attempted murder and was given a two-year sentence of hard labor.
Following his conviction, Robinette faced a bureaucratic delay that lasted almost three months. In July, amidst the ongoing Civil War, he was transferred to Fort Jefferson located in the Dry Tortugas islands near Key West, Florida. Upon his arrival at Fort Jefferson, three Army officers who were familiar with Robinette submitted a petition seeking his pardon. They argued that his punishment was excessively severe and highlighted his active opposition to traitors and their attempts to undermine the government.
The officers’ letter initially reached Sen. Waitman T. Willey from the newly formed state of West Virginia. Willey supported the request and forwarded it to the White House, specifically addressing President Abraham Lincoln.
After thoroughly examining the case records, Lincoln ultimately sided with Robinette and granted him a pardon on September 1, 1864. Following his release, Robinette returned to Maryland and pursued a career in farming. He passed away at the age of 84 in 1903.
Interestingly, when Robinette’s obituary was published, it omitted any mention of his altercation with Mr. Alexander, his court-martial, conviction, and subsequent pardon by President Abraham Lincoln. Perhaps Robinette would have been pleased to know that his name would be remembered in history for a much more significant reason, thanks to his great-great-grandson and the 46th president of the United States, Joseph Robinette Biden.
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