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Frémont, John Charles (1813–1890)

Frémont, John Charles (1813–1890)

John Charles Frémont (b. 21 January 1813; d. 13 July 1890), U.S. Army officer, explorer, and politician. A native of Savannah, Georgia, Frémont gained renown in part through the political influence of his father-in-law, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, and the literary skills of his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont. He rose from an obscure position with the U.S. Army's Corps of Topographical Engineers to fame as a western explorer during two expeditions to the Rocky Mountains (1842) and Oregon and California (1843–1844).

In 1845–1846, at a critical point in U.S.-Mexican relations, Frémont returned to California with another military expedition. There he clashed with the Mexican authorities, took a leading part in the Bear Flag Revolt, and cooperated with Commodore Robert Stockton in the U.S. conquest of California. A dispute with Brigadier General Stephen W. Kearny ended with Frémont's court martial for mutiny and insubordination.

Though restored to duty by President James Polk, Frémont resigned his military commission and moved to California, where he supervised gold mining on his Mariposa estate. He served briefly as U.S. senator from California (1850–1851), became the first presidential candidate of the Republican Party in 1856, and was again the center of controversy during a short term as a major general in the Union Army during the Civil War. After losing the Mariposa estate in 1864, Frémont attempted to restore his fortune through land, mining, and railroad speculations in Arizona, where he was also territorial governor (1878–1881).

A heroic and popular figure during the 1840s, Frémont epitomized the U.S. expansionist spirit; but an impulsive, imprudent nature tarnished his early exploits and later thwarted his ambitions for wealth and high office.

See alsoMexico, Wars and Revolutions: Mexican-American War .


The basic biography is Allan Nevins, Frémont, Pathmarker of the West, new ed. (1955). His career as an explorer is documented in Donald Jackson and Mary Lee Spence, ed., The Expeditions of John Charles Frémont, 3 vols. (1970–1984). For his military role during the Mexican-American War, see Neal Harlow, California Conquered: War and Peace on the Pacific, 1846–1850 (1982).

Additional Bibliography

Chaffin, Tom. Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire. New York: Hill and Wang, 2002.

                                      Kenneth N. Owens

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