Biden family anecdote

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On the evening of 21 March 1864, at the army of the Potomac’s winter camp near Beverly Ford, Virginia, two civilian employees got into a fight. It seems that one John J Alexander overheard one Moses J Robinette, a non-combatant army veterinary surgeon, say something snarky about him to a female cook.

In his playful way — and most of his ways were playful — Robinette was just having a bit of innocuous fun. But Alexander had neither playful ways nor, it would seem, a sense of humour, and he took violent exception to Robinette’s remark.

So Alexander attacked Robinette. One thing led to another. In the heat of things, Robinette drew a small penknife and slashed at Alexander, wounding him slightly. Believing that insult had now been augmented by injury, Alexander promptly reported the misdeed to the army authorities.

But these were serious times and, as a result, the incident, which should have been passed off with a laugh, ended in Robinette being charged with the crime of attempted murder. He was convicted and sentenced to two years’ hard labour after failing to convince the court that he had merely acted in self-defence.

Three army officers, who knew and liked Robinette, resolved to reverse this obvious injustice. They appealed the conviction to the President of the United States. They argued that the sentence was far too harsh, that the incident was far less serious than the charge suggested. The President agreed. As one of the 343 acts of clemency he issued during his term of office, the President of the United States granted a full pardon to Moses J Robinette.

That President was Abraham Lincoln. And the man he pardoned was the great-great grandfather of Joe Biden. Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. Seven months later President Lincoln was dead, felled by an assassin’s bullet.

And Moses J Robinette begat Joe Biden’s great grandfather, who begat Joe Biden’s grandmother, who begat Joe Biden’s father, Joseph Robinette Biden Sr, who begat Joseph Robinette Biden Jr, the current President of the United States.

Across the vast gap of history, America’s greatest President played an indirect role in the fate of another great American President. Which brings us to the present day. For such, sometimes, are the complicated machinations of destiny.

But it gets better. Because in their petition for clemency for Moses J Robinette, the three Union Army officers who knew him described him to Abraham Lincoln. In their description they noted his beguiling cheerfulness and decency. Everyone liked Moses J Robinette.

Perhaps Lincoln saw a little of himself in Robinette. Perhaps his eyes were drawn to one particular passage in the petition. In summary, the officers characterised Robinette as — “Ardent and influential in opposing traitors and their schemes to destroy the government.” And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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