This short history is based upon my reading of Charles Upham’s 1856 book titled Life, Explorations, and Public Services of John Charles Fremont. In 1856, John Fremont became the first man nominated by the Republican Party to run for President of the United States. This book was published shortly after he was nominated as the Republican candidate and was designed to educate voters on who John Fremont was.
This book focuses upon the various expeditions of John Fremont. John Fremont’s first expedition took place in 1842. To give a quick perspective, 1840 was the year that the first wagon train crossed the country. As an officer in the U.S. Army, Fremont made three official expeditions across this country. Throughout these expeditions, he was creating detailed maps of Western United States. Fremont was also a man of science. He was measuring how far above sea level various mountain passes were and the height of different mountains.
During his third expedition, United States was involved in the Mexican War over the boundaries of the United States. California had already separated from Mexico and was called the Bear Flag Republic. Fremont and his men were instrumental in moving the Bear Flag Republic into the Union.
After California became a state, Fremont was nominated as its first United State Senator. Fremont was busy in Washington D.C. were he passed numerous bills that were necessary for the state. Because of his knowledge of the California, the U.S. Senate generally yielded to him. These bills included setting up courts in California, locations for land offices, and the settlement of land disputes.
Today we are used to politicians profiting themselves. This was not the case with Fremont. Because the railroad had not yet been established, it still took several months to get from Washington D.C. and California. Because California had been controlled by several different governments in such a short period of time, there were massive land disputes as to who owned what.
Fremont introduced a bill that did not allow the United States government to appeal any decision that was made in a land dispute. Fremont did not want the citizens of California to have to travel to D.C. to resolve land disputes where the government would have home field advantage. If citizens had to travel to D.C. to in order to maintain their land, Fremont worried that they would just give it up.
However, because Fremont owned a large track of land that was rich in mineral rights, his political enemies accused him of trying to pass a law so that he personally would benefit. Fremont rewrote the law saying that it would apply to every other citizen in the state of California but him. Fremont was an example of a true public servant.
Another example about the character of Fremont occurred after California became a state. Because of the gold rush, many Indians found themselves being removed from their native hunting grounds. The Indians had agreed to move to new lands but the problem was that they did not have enough food to make a smooth transition. The decision was made that the Indians would be given beef to help bridge this gap.
Because of Fremont’s experiences, he became the contractor to provided the beef. Fremont delivered the beef but the United States soon reneged on its promise to pay Fremont for the cows that he had given to the Indians. It was many years later when the politicians in Washington D.C. finally decided that the government would repay Fremont. This situation caused much embarrassment to Fremont and great financial difficulties. Fremont had many opportunities to make the government look silly, but he chose to suffer in silence.
While Fremont had a stellar military career, it did not end well for him. As a result of the huge communication gap between Washington D.C. and California, a controversy arose that ended with Fremont being convicted of insubordination. The problem arose because Commodore Robert Stockton had been instructed by the president of the United States to concur California and set up a provisional government. This is exactly what Robert Stockton and Fremont did.
The President of the United States subsequently sent General Kearney with the exact same instructions. The President did not know when he sent General Kearney that California had already been conquered and a provisional government established.
When General Kearney arrived in California, Commodore Stockton and General Kearney got in a heated debate over who was the superior officer. General Kearney argued that his instructions were the newest and as such, his position was superior. Commodore Stockton argued that Kearney’s orders were worthless because California was already conquered and the provisional government had been established. How could General Kearney put down a rebellion when there was no rebellion and how could he set up a provisional government unless he dismantled the current provisional government?
Fremont sided with Commodore Stockton. On Fremont’s return to the east, General Kearney court marshaled Fremont. Fremont was tried and convicted. However, as soon as the conviction was handed down, President Polk commuted his sentence. Fremont resigned.
As a private citizen, Fremont conducted two more exploration parties across the Western United States. The fifth exploration was the most interesting as he deliberately crossed the country in the winter time. The reason for this is he was trying to ensure that the proposed route for the transcontinental railroad would be safe for winter travel. He wanted to obtain snow accumulation reports at the various passes.
While this is not the end of Fremont’s public career, it is the place where the book stops. Fremont lived another 25 years. He served as an officer for the North during the Civil War and he eventually served as a territorial governor in Arizona.