Senator Fremont, the first Republican presidential candidate

John Fremont undertook one final expedition west after he resigned from the army following his conviction for mutiny. With the blessing of his father-in-law, Senator Thomas Benton, he headed out from St. Louis to map a route for a railroad along the 38th parallel. The expedition was ill timed and some say poorly led, resulting in ten deaths from brutal weather during the winter of 1848-49 while crossing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

John C. Fremont

Before leaving California for Fort Leavenworth, Fremont had asked Thomas Larkin, the U.S. consul to the Territory of California, to buy land for him near the Mission San Jose, but Larkin bought the Rancho de las Mariposas in the foothills south of Yosemite instead. At first Fremont was furious, but when gold was found there he suddenly realized that he owned the richest rancho in California. But, just like the holdings of John Sutter, his land soon became overrun with miners. Thus began a series of legal battles that would last for years and, coupled with poor management, help to deplete his fortune.

The Great Trees, Mariposa Grove, California

In 1850, Fremont was elected as one of the first two senators from the new state of California. He served for two years, spending a total of twenty-one days in Washington. By 1856 Fremont was in New York and running for president of the United States as the first candidate from the new Republican Party. He placed second to James Buchanan but failed to carry California.

With the onset of the Civil War, he was appointed Major General commanding the Department of the West, a position Sherman later held. Fremont imposed martial law over Missouri, confiscated private property, and freed slaves. When President Lincoln urged him to change his policies he refused, much like he had refused to hand over the governorship of California to Kearny, and Lincoln fired him.

1856 Fremont campaign banner

 

After a short, futile tour chasing Stonewall Jackson around Virginia, Fremont declined another appointment with the Army of the Potomac and spent the rest of the war in New York without a command. After the war he bought the Pacific Railroad from the state of Missouri but lost it within a year. With his financial problems increasing he was appointed Governor of the Arizona Territory in 1878 but was forced to resign three years later. John C. Fremont, once known as the Great Pathfinder, died in New York in 1890, the great deeds of his youth forgotten.

 

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