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James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War$
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Michael J. Birkner and John W. Quist

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780813044262

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813044262.001.0001

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Joseph Holt, James Buchanan, and the Secession Crisis

Joseph Holt, James Buchanan, and the Secession Crisis

(p.208) 8 Joseph Holt, James Buchanan, and the Secession Crisis
James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War


University Press of Florida

Conventional wisdom disparages President James Buchanan for allowing the secession movement to incubate and doing nothing to stop it. But Joseph Holt of Kentucky, Secretary of War during Buchanan’s last two months in office, has long been considered a resolute Unionist who bravely resisted the disunion tide. This essay explores an intriguing anomaly: Holt’s course closely paralleled that of his oft-criticized chief. The two stood ready to use armed force to defend Fort Sumter, but both still hoped to preserve the peace and keep the Upper South in the Union. Once fighting began, however, Holt and Buchanan both fully supported the Union war effort. The affinity between Holt and Buchanan is the central idea that holds this essay together. That affinity belies the persistent stereotype that damns Buchanan as a southern dupe or a quasi-traitor.

Keywords:   James Buchanan, Joseph Holt, Secession, Disunion, Union, Fort Sumter, Upper South

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