Holt's unionism, however, grew considerably more ardent in the wake of Abraham Lincoln's presidential victory. As secession became reality, Holt became, along with Jeremiah Black and Edwin Stanton, one of the stalwart Union men in the lame-duck administration, pressing Buchanan to be resolute, even as other cabinet members equivocated or cast their lot with the South. In December 1860 Secretary of War John Floyd decamped, and Holt was appointed in his stead. Determined to keep hold of what the federal government had retained of its property in the South while avoiding outright provocation, Holt made plain to Robert Anderson, Fort Sumter's commander, that reinforcements would be sent, but only upon Anderson's request. Holt even prepared a force to deliver the men and supplies, but Anderson made no such demand of him. Holt also removed P. G. T. Beauregard, whose secessionist leanings were unmistakable, from his position as superintendent of West Point and bolstered Washington's defenses. After briefing the incoming Lincoln administration, Holt once again took to the stump, denouncing secession in speeches around the nation, most notably in Kentucky, where in July he lambasted his home state's pretensions to neutrality. If something of a late bloomer in his enthusiasm for "coercion," he came to embrace not only a war for the Union but one for freedom. He later endorsed the Emancipation Proclamation and the enlistment of black troops.
Patrick G. Williams. "Holt, Joseph," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00522.html.