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Holt, Joseph

Joseph Holt, 1807–94, American public official, judge advocate general of the U.S. army (1862–75), b. Breckinridge co., Ky. He became a widely known lawyer and political speaker in the old Southwest. For his services to the Democratic party, President Buchanan appointed him commissioner of patents in 1857, and in 1859 he became postmaster general. He was secretary of war from January to Mar., 1861. After the secession movement began, Holt, previously sympathetic to the South, gave unhesitating allegiance to the Union. Appointed (Sept., 1862) to the new office of judge advocate general, Holt supported and carried out President Lincoln's desire for an extension of military jurisdiction over many civil matters, including the trials of political prisoners. The trial and punishment of John Wilkes Booth's accomplices, however, especially the hanging of Mary E. Surratt, on questionable evidence and with evidence favorable to the defendants suppressed, brought a reaction against Holt and the power he had assumed. The radical Republicans in Congress, however, kept him in office until 1875.

See biography by E. D. Leonard (2011).

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