John C. Frémont

John Frémont
5th Governor of Arizona
In office
October 6, 1878 – October 11, 1881
Appointed byRutherford B. Hayes
Preceded byJohn Philo Hoyt
Succeeded byFrederick Augustus Tritle
United States Senator
from California
In office
September 10, 1850 – March 3, 1851
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byJohn B. Weller
Military Governor of California
In office
January 19, 1847 – March 1, 1847
Preceded byRobert F. Stockton
Succeeded byStephen W. Kearny
Personal details
BornJohn Charles Frémont
(1813-01-21)January 21, 1813
Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
DiedJuly 13, 1890(1890-07-13) (aged 77)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic (Before 1854)
Republican (1854–1864)
Radical Democracy (1864)
Spouse(s)Jessie Benton
RelativesThomas Benton (father-in-law)
EducationCollege of Charleston
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service1838–1848
RankUnion Army major general rank insignia.svg Major General
CommandsCalifornia Battalion
Department of the West

John Charles Frémont or Fremont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890) was an American explorer, politician, and soldier who, in 1856, became the first candidate of the Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, when he led five expeditions into the American West, that era's penny press and admiring historians accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder.[1]

During the Mexican–American War, Frémont, a major in the U.S. Army, took control of California from the California Republic in 1846. Frémont was convicted in court martial for mutiny and insubordination over a conflict of who was the military Governor of California. After his sentence was commuted and he was reinstated by President Polk, Frémont resigned from the Army. Frémont led a private fourth expedition, which cost ten lives, seeking a rail route over the mountains around the 38th parallel in the winter of 1849. Afterwards, Frémont settled in California at Monterey while buying cheap land in the Sierra foothills. When gold was found on his Mariposa ranch, Frémont became a wealthy man during the California Gold Rush, but he was soon bogged down with lawsuits over land claims, between the dispossession of various land owners during the Mexican–American War and the explosion of Forty-Niners immigrating during the Rush. These cases were settled by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing Frémont to keep his property. Frémont's fifth and final privately funded expedition between 1853 and 1854, surveyed a route for a transcontinental railroad. Frémont became one of the first two U.S. senators elected from the new state of California in 1850. Frémont was the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party, carrying most of the North. He lost the 1856 presidential election to Democrat James Buchanan when Know Nothings split the vote. Democrats warned that his election would lead to civil war.[citation needed]

During the American Civil War, he was given command of Department of the West by President Abraham Lincoln. Although Frémont had successes during his brief tenure as Commander of the Western Armies, he ran his department autocratically, and made hasty decisions without consulting Washington D.C. or President Lincoln. After Frémont's emancipation edict that freed slaves in his district, he was relieved of his command by President Lincoln for insubordination. In 1861, Frémont was the first commanding Union general who recognized in Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant an "iron will" to fight and promoted him commander at the strategic base near Cairo, Illinois. Defeating the Confederates at Springfield, Frémont was the only Union General in the West to have a Union victory for 1861. After a brief service tenure in the Mountain Department in 1862, Frémont resided in New York, retiring from the Army in 1864. The same year Frémont was a presidential candidate for the Radical Democracy Party, but he resigned before the election. After the Civil War, Frémont's wealth declined after investing heavily and purchasing an unsuccessful Pacific Railroad in 1866, and lost much of his wealth during the Panic of 1873. Frémont served as Governor of Arizona from 1878 to 1881 appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes. Frémont, retired from politics and financially destitute, died in New York City in 1890.

Historians portray Frémont as controversial, impetuous, and contradictory. Some scholars regard him as a military hero of significant accomplishment, while others view him as a failure who repeatedly defeated his own best purposes. The keys to Frémont's character and personality may lie in his being born illegitimately, his ambitious drive for success, self-justification, and passive-aggressive behavior.[2][3] Frémont's published reports and maps produced from his explorations significantly contributed to massive American emigration overland into the West starting in the 1840s. At least three times, Frémont led his men in the massacre of non-hostile Native American villages. In June 1846, Frémont's and his army expedition's return to California, spurred the formation of the California Battalion, and his military advice led to the capture of Sonoma, and the formation of the Bear Flag Republic. Many people during his lifetime believed his court martial by General Kearny in 1848 was unjustified. His biographer Allan Nevins in 1939 believed that Frémont lived a dramatic lifestyle, one of remarkable successes, and one of dismal failures.

Early life, education, and career

John Charles Frémont was born on January 21, 1813, the son of Charles Frémon, a French-Canadian immigrant school-teacher,[4][5][a] and Anne Beverley Whiting, the youngest daughter of socially prominent Virginia planter Col. Thomas Whiting. At age 17, Anne married Major John Pryor, a wealthy Richmond resident in his early 60s. In 1810, Pryor hired Frémon to tutor his young wife Anne. Pryor confronted Anne when he found out she was having an affair with Frémon. Anne and Frémon fled to Williamsburg on July 10, 1811, later settling in Norfolk, Virginia, taking with them household slaves Anne had inherited.[8][6] The couple later settled in Savannah, Georgia, where she gave birth to their son Frémont out of wedlock.[4] Pryor published a divorce petition in the Virginia Patriot, and charged that his wife had "for some time past indulged in criminal intercourse". When the Virginia House of Delegates refused Anne's divorce petition, it was impossible for the couple to marry. In Savannah, Anne took in boarders while Frémon taught French and dancing. A woman enslaved in the household, Black Hannah, helped raise young John.[6]

Joel R. Poinsett, a wealthy South Carolinian, was Frémont's patron.

On December 8, 1818, Frémont's father Frémon died in Norfolk, Virginia, leaving Anne a widow to take care of John and several young children alone on a limited inherited income.[4] Anne and her family moved to Charleston, South Carolina. Frémont, knowing his origins and coming from relatively modest means, grew up a proud, reserved, restless loner who although self-disciplined, was ready to prove himself and unwilling to play by the rules.[9] The young Frémont was considered to be "precious, handsome, and daring," having the ability of obtaining protectors.[4] A lawyer, John W. Mitchell, provided for Frémont's early education whereupon Frémont in May 1829 entered Charleston College, teaching at intervals in the countryside, but was expelled for irregular attendance in 1831. Frémont, however, had been grounded in mathematics and natural sciences.[4]

Frémont attracted the attention of eminent South Carolina politician Joel R. Poinsett, an Andrew Jackson supporter, who secured Frémont an appointment as a teacher of mathematics aboard the sloop USS Natchez, sailing the South American seas in 1833.[10][11] Frémont resigned from the navy and was appointed second lieutenant in the United States Topographical Corps, surveying a route for the Charleston, Louisville, and Cincinnati railroad.[12] Working in the Carolina mountains, Frémont desired to become an explorer.[4] Between 1837 and 1838, Frémont's desire for exploration increased while in Georgia on reconnaissance to prepare for the removal of Cherokee Indians.[4] When Poinsett became Secretary of War, he arranged for Frémont to assist notable French explorer and scientist Joseph Nicollet in exploring the lands between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.[13] Frémont become a first rate topographer, trained in astronomy, and geology, describing fauna, flora, soil, and water resources.[14] Gaining valuable western frontier experience Frémont came in contact with notable men including Henry Sibley, Joseph Renville, J.B. Faribault, Étienne Provost, and the Sioux nation.[15]

Thomas Hart Benton, U.S. Senator, Missouri, was Frémont's powerful backer in the Senate.
Other Languages