Antebellum Years: Lawyer, Democrat, and Government Official

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In the years before the Civil War, Joseph Holt forged a successful career as a lawyer and became involved in Kentucky politics as a Jacksonian Democrat. By the mid-1850s, he sought both a change in professional responsibilities and location. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1857 and accepted positions in the Buchanan administration as commissioner of patents, postmaster general, and briefly secretary of war. Holt’s hard work throughout this period led to exhaustion, and familial concern for his physical and mental health. He courted and married two wives, only to be widowed twice by 1860. While mourning his second wife, Holt saw the sectional crisis of the 1850s come to a head and threaten the survival of nation itself.

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