Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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HOLT, Joseph, jurist, born in Breckenridge county, Kentucky, 6 January, 1807. He was educated at St. Joseph's college, Bardstown, and at Centre college, Danville, and in 1828 began to practise law at Elizabethtown, Kentucky He removed to Louisville in 1832, was attorney for the Jefferson circuit in 1833, and in 1855 went to Port Gibson, Mississippi, where he attained eminence in his profession. He became an adherent of Richard M. Johnson. and a speech that he made in Johnson's favor in the National Democratic convention of 1836 made him widely known as an orator. At this time he was counsel for the city of Vicksburg in a celebrated suit involving the claim of the heirs of Newit Vick, founder of the city, to a strip of land along the river front that Vick had devoted to the public use. He was a frequent opponent of Sergeant S. Prentiss. Holt returned to Louisville in 1842, and after a trip to Europe was appointed commissioner of patents by President Buchanan in 1857. He became postmaster-general, in 1859, and when John B. Floyd withdrew from the cabinet in 1860 he assumed charge of the war department. He actively co-operated with General Scott in providing against hostile demonstrations at the inauguration of President Lincoln in 1861, and in a report, which was afterward published, described the plot that had been made to seize the capital. Although he had been a Douglas Democrat, Mr. Holt now gave his earnest support to the administration, denounced the policy of "neutrality" in his native state, and advocated the Union cause there and elsewhere. In the latter part of 1861 he was one of the commission that was appointed to investigate the military claims against the Department of the West. President Lincoln made him judge-advocate-general of the army on 3 September, 1862, with the rank of colonel, and on the establishment of the bureau of military justice in 1864 he was put at its head with the same title, but with the rank of brigadier-general. He expressed his strong approval of the emancipation proclamation of 1862, and on 26 August, 1863, addressed an opinion to Sec. Stanton in which he approved the enlistment and subsequent emancipation of those negroes who, living in states to which the proclamation did not refer, were still in slavery. Judge Holt bore a conspicuous part in various courts-martial and military commissions, especially in that which tried the assassins of President Lincoln. He was brevetted major-general, United States army, on 13 March, 1865, for "faithful, meritorious, and distinguished services in the bureau of military justice during" the war," and on 1 December, 1875, was retired at his own request, being over sixty-two years of age. Since that time he has resided in Washington, D. C.
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