Abraham Lincoln Pardoned Joe Biden’s Great-Great-Grandfather

4 min read

Abraham Lincoln pardoned Joe Biden’s great-great-grandfather 160 years ago, according to the Washington Post’s David J. Gerleman.

Gerleman, a historian at George Mason University, discovered the connection between the two presidents in a 22-page document at the National Archives.

Biden’s family tree has long been public knowledge—but until now, no one seems to have linked his great-great-grandfather Moses J. Robinette with the nation’s 16th president. (Coincidentally, Biden also decorated his Oval Office at the White House with a portrait and a bust of Lincoln.)

Gerleman’s revelations matter because they “shed light on a new facet of Biden’s family history,” writes Axios’ Ivana Saric. They also “serve as a reminder of just how many Civil War stories have yet to be told,” writes Gerleman.

The historian worked out the link between the two men while hunting through the shelves of the National Archives. He found part of the transcript from Robinette’s military trial in 1864, which contains an account of the incident.

On March 21, 1864, toward the end of the Civil War, a scuffle broke out in a Union Army mess tent near Beverly Ford, Virginia. Two men—both civilian employees—were involved in the disturbance: Robinette and John J. Alexander.

Alexander walked away from the fight with knife wounds. Robinette, meanwhile, was charged with attempted murder.

At the time, Robinette was in his mid-40s and working as a veterinary surgeon for the Army of the Potomac’s reserve artillery.

Though he didn’t have any formal medical training—and had previously worked as a hotelier—his job during the war was to make sure the mules and horses that towed the army’s ammunition wagons stayed healthy.

The fight broke out after Alexander overheard Robinette talking about him in the mess tent. What, exactly, Robinette said is unclear, but Alexander confronted him.

After the two men exchanged some angry words, Robinette got out his pocketknife and cut Alexander during a brief physical altercation. Camp watchmen later arrested him.


Roughly a month later, Robinette stood trial. He was accused of getting drunk, inciting a fight, drawing a weapon and attempting to kill Alexander.

Though ​​Robinette claimed he had been acting in self-defense, the military judges found him guilty on nearly all counts (they acquitted him of attempted murder) and sentenced him to two years of hard labor.

In July 1864, Robinette was sent to the Dry Tortugas islands of Florida to serve his sentence. Meanwhile, three Army officers who knew Robinette—John S. Burdett, David L. Smith and Samuel R. Steel—wrote to Lincoln and asked the president to overturn the conviction.

They argued that Robinette was simply defending himself against a larger, stronger man. They also vouched for his loyalty to the Union.

After reviewing the case, Lincoln pardoned Robinette on September 1, 1864. It was one of some 300 pardons he issued during his presidency.

So far, Biden has issued only a handful of pardons to individuals. However, he collectively pardoned thousands of people convicted of the use and possession of marijuana on federal lands and in Washington, D.C.

After Robinette was pardoned, he lived out the rest of his days as a farmer in Maryland before dying in 1903. His son, George Hamilton Robinette, is Biden’s great-grandfather. (The 46th president’s full name is Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.)


The saga ultimately unveiled “an unexpected intersection in the histories of two American presidents, Lincoln and Biden—a story that has waited 160 years to be told,” writes Gerleman.

source: smithsonianmag.com/abraham-lincoln-pardoned-bidens-grandfather

You May Also Like