Holt: A Lincoln Advocate
Throughout the Civil War, Judge Joseph Holt was a key figure in helping to keep Kentucky in the Union and firmly aligned with the federal government. He had helped secure a peaceful inauguration for President Abraham Lincoln and was determined that Kentucky should take its rightful place as defending the Union.
On July 13, 1861 Holt delivered one of the most important speeches of his life. "I wish solemnly to declare before you and the world that I am for this union without conditions, one and indivisible, now and forever. I am for its preservation at any cost of blood and treasure against its assailants. I know no neutrality between my country and its foes, whether they be foreign or domestic; no neutrality between the glorious flag which floats over us, and the ingrates and traitors who would trample it in the dust."
The impact of the speech was pronounced by one historian as "the most powerful speech yet given in favor of the federal government and was a most powerful weapon in the hands of the Union men in Kentucky."
Lincoln's astute political sense recognized that having a prominent southern Democrat on his side was something the President could make great use of, since Lincoln had polled so poorly in the Bluegrass State and needed Kentucky to be successful in the Civil War. An affirmative opinion on a legal question given by Holt in 1863 resulted in the strengthening of the Union Armies by large numbers of African American troops at a time when reinforcements were badly needed. By this, Judge Holt, joined the esteemed group of Kentuckians who played significant roles in the Civil War era including Henry Clay, John C. Breckinridge, John Hunt Morgan, and many more.
Preservation and rehabilitation of a site so closely associated with President Abraham Lincoln offers a tremendous opportunity for Americans to rediscover the story of events that transpired following his assassination in 1865. The Holt House also provides a rare opportunity to preserve an important historic feature on Kentucky's rural landscape associated with our nation's greatest president, and expand the publics knowledge and understanding of both the Holt and Lincoln legacies in Kentucky and to our nation.
Preservation and restoration of Judge Holt's home has been named a Legacy Project of the Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, established in 2004 to organize and coordinate the state's commemorative activities in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth in Hodgenville, Kentucky on February 12, 1809. The commission was charged with ensuring that Lincoln's Kentucky story is an essential part of the national celebration, and to reminding the public of the critical role that Kentucky and Kentuckians played in Lincoln's life and career.
The Holt House is also a featured site of the new Kentucky Lincoln Heritage Trail, which highlights historic sites throughout central Kentucky directly associated with Lincoln, his friends and family. These include the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site near Hodgenville; Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate; and the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington, and more than a dozen other central Kentucky sites. Representatives of these organizations and the Holt House Steering Committee have formed the Kentucky Lincoln Sites Alliance to continue the long-term promotion of Kentucky Lincoln sites and work together on initiatives including pursuit of the region as a National Heritage Area.
Restoration and preservation of the Judge Joseph Holt House not only encourages Kentuckians and others across the nation to learn more about the role Judge Holt played in President Lincoln's cabinet and in a pivotal moment in our nation's history, but it is also a rare opportunity to observe the process of acquiring and undertaking the restoration and interpretation of an important historic site from start to finish. This project offers unique a case study to expand the public's knowledge about Lincoln's Kentucky connections and is a unique example of a comprehensive community undertaking and a public-private partnership working toward preserving and reintroducing a near-forgotten Kentucky landmark with national significance.