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President Joe Biden‘s great-great grandfather got released from a southern island prison during the Civil War after an intervention by a sympathetic senator and a presidential pardon by Abraham Lincoln, newly uncovered records reveal.

Moses J. Robinette, Biden’s relative on his father’s side, grew up in western Maryland and got hired by the Army as a veterinary surgeon in 1862 or 1863, despite lacking specific schooling in the trade, according to newly unearthed records from the National Archives, scholar David Gerleman wrote in the Washington Post

His qualifications for the role were ‘unstated,’ Gerleman wrote, but that was unexceptional during a time when the U.S. lacked many veterinary schools.

The role would take Biden’s relative to an Army encampment in Virginia, where a fight with another civilian military employee would land him in prison after a military courtmarshal.

Robinette – whose surname is the president’s middle name – appears to have had a hot streak, and potentially a taste for alcohol (The president himself has flashed his anger at targets from a special counsel to Donald Trump, and does not drink).

President Joe Biden's great-great grandfather got a pardon after a military court convicted him in a fighting incident

President Abraham Lincoln pardoned Moses Robinette and ended his incarceration

Pardon me: President Joe Biden’s great-great grandfather got a pardon after being convicted by a military court after drawing his pocket knife during a fight

Robinette was also a backer of the Union, despite living and working in Maryland and Virginia where loyalties were mixed in the run-up to the Civil War.

Records that survive to this day tell of how he got in a scuffle after a Brigade wagon commander named John J. Alexander ‘overheard Robinette saying something about him to the female cook and rushed into the mess shanty to demand an explanation,’ according to the account.

‘Tempers flared, expletives followed, and Robinette drew his pocketknife. A brief scuffle left Alexander bleeding from several cuts before camp watchmen arrived to arrest Robinette,’ writes Gerleman.

The event set in motion the distant relative of the future president’s confinement at a military prison in Fort Jefferson off the coast of modern day Florida on the Dry Tortugas islands. 

The president’s ancestor was charged with inciting a ‘dangerous quarrel’ after becoming intoxicated, and using the knife as a weapon with ‘attempt to kill.’

He was able to beat that later charge during his military trial, but got convicted of the others.

Moses Robinette was set to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas islands off what is now Florida

Moses Robinette was set to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas islands off what is now Florida

Pardon power: 'Pardon for unexecuted part of punishment,' President Abraham Lincoln wrote, wiping away the remaining sentence for Biden's ancestor

Pardon power: ‘Pardon for unexecuted part of punishment,’ President Abraham Lincoln wrote, wiping away the remaining sentence for Biden’s ancestor

Sen. Waitman T. Willey, a former Whig who became one of West Virginia's first senators after the state was admitted into the Union, passed on the pardon application after officers vouched for Robinette's character

Sen. Waitman T. Willey, a former Whig who became one of West Virginia’s first senators after the state was admitted into the Union, passed on the pardon application after officers vouched for Robinette’s character

Hard time: Robinette spent a few months at the island prison before Lincoln's pardon cut short his sentence

Hard time: Robinette spent a few months at the island prison before Lincoln’s pardon cut short his sentence

Although his temper may have flared in the argument, he was willing to let bygones be bygones, saying that ‘whatever I have done was done in self defence, that 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.’

It’s all new information about a branch in a family tree that the president discusses less often than the Finnegans and other Irish ancestors. 

In an episode that his ancestor Biden would recognize from his 36 years in the Senate and term in the White House, Robinette’s conviction set in motion a lobbying campaign that ultimately freed him.

It started with a plea by Army officers who vouched that he was acting in self defense, with a measure of old fashioned Washington spin. The quarrel amounted to a cut ‘with a Penknife a Teamster much his superior in strength and Size, all under the impulse of the excitement of the moment’, they wrote.

They were political allies as well, noting that Robinette had been ‘ardent, and Influential … in opposing Traitors and their schemes to destroy the Government.’

That got a favorable hearing from Waitman T. Willey, one of the first two senators  from the new state of West Virginia after it was was carved out from Virginia and brought into the Union in 1863.

That eventually got the matter in front of Lincoln who issued a brief ‘Pardon for unexecuted part of punishment,’ signed, ‘A. Lincoln’ on Sep. 1,  1864. The War Department then freed him.

 

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This post first appeared on Daily mail

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