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General John Fremont: Facts, Timeline & Significance

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  • 0:02 Who Was John Fremont?
  • 1:35 Fremont in the…
  • 2:24 Fremont in Politics
  • 3:01 Fremont in the Civil War
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
John C. Frémont was an American explorer, Senator, presidential candidate, and Union general in the Civil War. He was one of the most famous and influential Americans of the mid-19th century and we'll be looking at him in this lesson.

Who Was John Frémont?

John Charles Fremon was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1813. His mother had left her husband and run away with Charles Fremon, creating an enormous scandal, meaning that young John's birth was mired in controversy for being out of wedlock. It was not until later in his life that he added the accented 'e' and the 't' on to his name. Thus, he was known in his day and is remembered today as John C. Frémont, famous American explorer, politician, and Union general during the Civil War.

Frémont attended school in South Carolina and joined the crew of the USS Natchez as a teacher in the early 1830s. His early years were quite adventurous, as he made his mark as a western explorer. In 1838 he entered into the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers. This led to his leading numerous surveying trips and expeditions into the western territories of the United States, gaining invaluable experience exploring and working in the wilderness. These journeys continued for many years. During this time, he met the famed Kit Carson on the Missouri River.

In the 1840s Frémont led trips on the Oregon Trail and into what is today Nevada and California. Frémont's work in exploring and scouting these territories helped pave the way for future explorers and settlers to move west. During one expedition in 1846, Frémont nearly caused violence by leading his group of men into the Sacramento Valley, where they attempted to encourage anti-Mexican and pro-American fervor (California was still held by Mexico at that time).

Frémont in the Mexican-American War

When tensions between the United States and Mexico boiled over into war, Frémont raised soldiers and led a command of troops in California. He encountered various setbacks, but overall, Frémont was quite successful. In early 1847, he accepted the surrender of Mexican forces and essentially secured large parts of California. That same year he was appointed military governor of the area for a short while in 1847. Due to various orders, there was confusion in who was supposed to be the territorial governor. Frémont did not want to give up his post, and he was arrested for failing to obey orders that same year. His conviction and dishonorable discharge were commuted by President Polk. After the war, he resettled in California. During the 1840s, Frémont also married Jessie Hart Benton, the daughter of powerful Missouri Senator Thomas Benton.

Frémont in Politics

In 1850, Frémont became one of the first senators from the new state of California, serving in this capacity for just a few months. Frémont was a staunch opponent of slavery and its westward expansion, which put him at odds with many other members of the Democratic party. Thus, when the new Republican Party was born in the 1850s in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the expansion of slavery, Frémont was a perfect fit. Because of his national prominence, Frémont was chosen as the first Republican candidate for president in 1856. He was running against Pennsylvania Democrat James Buchanan, who defeated him for the presidency.

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