The New International Encyclopædia/Frémont, John Charles

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Edition of 1906.  See also John C. Frémont on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FRÉMONT, John Charles (1813-90). A distinguished American explorer and soldier, the son of a French emigrant to America. He was born in Savannah, Ga., January 21, 1813, and was educated in Charleston College, from which he received a degree in 1836. Soon afterwards he passed the necessary examination, and was appointed professor of mathematics in the United States Navy. In 1838 he was commissioned second lieutenant in the topographical engineers. In October, 1841, he married Jessie, the second daughter of Senator Thomas H. Benton (q.v.). In 1842 a geographical survey of all the territories of the United States was proposed by him, and, although his idea was not entirely carried out, he was sent at the head of a party of twenty-eight men to explore the Rocky Mountains. In his accomplishment of this task he reached the Wind River Mountains, and ascended the highest peak, later known as Frémont's Peak — 13,570 feet above sea-level. His next enterprise was the exploration of the territory between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast, a region then almost unknown. Early in 1843 he started with thirty-nine men, and after a journey of 1700 miles, came to Great Salt Lake. Thence he proceeded northward to the tributaries of the Columbia River, following the valley to Fort Vancouver. In November he started upon his return, but finding himself and party in danger of death from cold and starvation, he turned westward, and after great hardship succeeded in crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and in March reached Sutter's Fort in California, not far from the place where four years later gold was discovered. He returned safely by a more southerly route, reaching Kansas in July, 1844.

In 1845 Frémont went on another exploring expedition, his last under direction of the Government, spending the summer along the continental divide, and in the winter again crossing the Sierras. He asked permission of the Mexican authorities at Monterey to continue his explorations, but they refused and ordered him to leave the country. War between Mexico and the United States was then imminent, and the authorities seemed to have been fearful of Frémont's influence upon the inhabitants of California, many of whom were Americans. Frémont, refusing to leave, fortified himself and his sixty-four men on a small mountain about thirty miles from Monterey; but when the Mexicans prepared to besiege the place, he retired and proceeded to Oregon. Near Klamath Lake he was overtaken by a courier, Lieutenant Gillespie, who had been sent by the Government with a secret message to its agent in California, and who seems to have instructed Frémont, on behalf of the Administration, to coöperate in its plan for the peaceable acquisition of California. Over the exact nature of these instructions, however, there has been much controversy. Frémont immediately returned to California; but, instead of conciliating the native Californians and encouraging them to remain neutral in case of war with Mexico, he seems to have fomented a revolt, known as the ‘Bear Flag War.’ Sonoma was captured and independence decided upon; but when it became known that the United States was at war with Mexico and that Commodore Sloat had seized Monterey, the American flag supplanted the Bear flag. Frémont then coöperated with Commodore Stockton in establishing the power of the United States in California, and was by him made military commandant and civil Governor. Toward the end of this year (1846), General Kearny arrived with a force of dragoons. Both he and Stockton had orders to establish a government; and friction immediately ensued.

Frémont prepared to obey Stockton, and continued as Governor in defiance of Kearny's orders. For this he was tried by court-martial at Washington, the trial lasting from November 2, 1847, to January 31, 1848, was convicted of ‘mutiny,’ ‘disobedience of the lawful command of a superior officer,’ and ‘conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline,’ and was sentenced to dismissal from the service. President Polk approved of the conviction for disobedience, but remitted the penalty, and Frémont resigned.

In October, 1848, with a party of thirty-three. Frémont started on an independent overland journey in search of a practical route to California by way of the Rio Grande. His guide lost the trail in the Rocky Mountains, and, after untold sufferings, the surviving members of the party were obliged to retreat to the Rio Grande. From there Frémont proceeded to California by the Gila route, reaching Sacramento in the spring of 1849. He then settled in California, and from September, 1850, to March, 1851, represented the State in the United States Senate. Still faithful to the route he had attempted in 1848, in 1853 he made his fifth and last exploration, crossing the Rockies and again succeeding in reaching California. In these last two expeditions his father-in-law. Senator Benton, was interested, and the discovery of practical routes for highways or railroads was the object of the explorations.

In 1856 the Republicans nominated Frémont for the Presidency. His nomination was due to his availability, to the renown gained by his explorations, and to his known opposition to the extension of slavery. In the ensuing election he met with defeat, receiving only 114 electoral votes, while Buchanan received 174. Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War Frémont was appointed major-general, and was placed in command of the Western Department, with headquarters at Saint Louis. On August 30, 1861, he issued a proclamation confiscating the property “of all persons in the State of Missouri who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proved to have taken an active part with their enemies in the field,” and freeing all slaves of such persons. Soon afterwards he established ‘a bureau of abolition’ to carry out the order respecting manumission. This ill-advised action greatly embarrassed the Administration, and on September 11 President Lincoln annulled the order as unauthorized and premature. Frémont's total incapacity for the command of a department soon became evident, and, acting upon the report of Secretary of War Cameron and Adjutant-General Thomas, whom he had commissioned to make an investigation, President Lincoln removed him from command in November. A few months later, however, Frémont was placed in command of the Mountain Department of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. After the battle at Cross Keys, June 8, 1862, he declined to serve, on the ground that he outranked General Pope, who was then in command of the Army of Virginia. On May 31, 1864, he was nominated for the Presidency by a small faction of the Republican Party, constituted in great part of members of the Radical wing. Finding but a slender support, he withdrew his name in September. He subsequently became interested in the construction of railroads, and in 1873 was prosecuted by the French Government for alleged participation in the swindles connected with the proposed transcontinental railway from Norfolk to San Francisco, and was sentenced on default to fine and imprisonment. He was Governor of Arizona from 1878 to 1882, and was appointed a major-general on the retired list by act of Congress in 1890. He died July 13, 1890. Consult: Frémont, Memoirs of My Life, Including Five Journeys of Western Exploration (Chicago, 1887); Mrs. Frémont, Souvenirs of My Time (Boston, 1887); Campaign Memoirs by Bigelow (New York, 1856) and Upham ( Boston, 1856).