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Thu, 01.21.1813

John Fremont, politician, explorer and abolitionist

John Fremont

*John Fremont was born on this date in 1813. He was a white-American soldier, politician and abolitionist.

From Savannah, Georgia, educated at Charleston College, he taught mathematics before joining the Army Topographical Engineers Corps in 1838. Among other field services, in 1842 Fremont mapped most of the Oregon Trail and climbed the second highest peak in the Wind River Mountains, afterwards known as Fremont Peak. Fremont made many expeditions; in 1845 he explored the Great Basin and the Pacific coast.

When the Mexican War started, Fremont was given the rank of major in the United States Army and helped annex California. Commodore Robert Stockton appointed Fremont as governor of California. In 1850 Fremont was elected as senator for California. A strong opponent of slavery, Fremont helped found the Republican Party and in 1856 was chosen as its first presidential candidate. With the outbreak of the American Civil War he was appointed as a Major General in the Union Army and put in command of the newly created Western Department based in St. Louis.

On August 30, 1861, Fremont proclaimed that all slaves owned by Confederates in Missouri were free.  President Abraham Lincoln was furious and asked him to modify his order; Fremont refused claiming that "it would imply that I myself thought it wrong and that I had acted without reflection which the gravity of the point demanded." Lincoln was urged to dismiss him. He was replaced Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, wrote an open letter to Lincoln defending Fremont and criticizing the president for failing to make slavery the dominant issue of the war and compromising moral principles for political motives.

Lincoln famously replied: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it." Fremont spent the rest of the war in New York. In May 1864 a convention of Radical Republications selected Fremont as their candidate for president. The idea of a radical candidate standing in the election worried Lincoln and negotiations began to persuade him to change his mind.

His price was the removal of his old enemy, Montgomery Blair, from the Cabinet. On September 22, 1864, Fremont withdrew from the contest. The following day, Lincoln sacked Blair and replaced him with the radical, William Dennison. After the Civil War Fremont became involved in and failed at railroad financing and building. He (then) became governor of Arizona Territory from 1873 to 1883. Fremont wrote several books including several about his expeditions and his autobiography, Memories of My Life 1887. John Fremont died in New York City on July 13, 1890.

Reference:
The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
ISBN 0-85229-633-0

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