Frémont, John Charles

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
Save to active project

Frémont, John Charles

John Charles Frémont, 1813–90, American explorer, soldier, and political leader, b. Savannah, Ga. He taught mathematics to U.S. naval cadets, then became an assistant on a surveying expedition (1838–39) between the upper Mississippi River and the Missouri. He eloped (1841) with Jessie, daughter of Senator Thomas H. Benton, who, after he became reconciled to the match, helped his son-in-law secure command of an expedition to explore the Des Moines River.

The next year (1842) Frémont headed an expedition to the Rocky Mts. with Kit Carson as guide, and in 1843–44, with first Thomas Fitzpatrick and then Carson as guide, he went to Oregon. He explored the Nevada country, crossed the Sierra Nevada to California, and returned home by a more southerly route. His enthusiastic reports created wide interest in Western scenery and Western concerns.

In 1845 he again went to California. Under his influence American settlers there raised the standard of revolt against the Mexican authorities and set up (1846) the Bear Flag republic at Sonoma. The arrival of Stephen W. Kearny and Commodore Robert Stockton resulted in a quarrel, as both had orders placing them in command. Frémont sided with Stockton and accepted from him an appointment as civil governor. When Kearny received orders indicating that Stockton was not his superior, Frémont was arrested, court-martialed, and found guilty. The penalty was remitted by President Polk, but Frémont, proud and injured, resigned from government service.

In 1848 he led an ill-judged and disastrous effort to locate passes for a transcontinental railroad. His fortunes climbed after gold was discovered on his California estate, although he was deprived of some of his wealth by the sharp practice of others. He served briefly (1850–51) as one of the first U.S. senators from California, and the Republicans chose him as their presidential candidate in 1856. In the Civil War he was given command of the Western Dept., but his radical policy toward slavery and slaveholders, both of which he abhorred, led to his removal. He was given a new command, but, when placed under the orders of John Pope, he resigned. Unsuccessful attempts (1870) to build a railroad to the Pacific—accompanied by actions of his agents that roused sharp criticism—cost him his fortune.

Beggared, he struggled on, supported by his wife's earnings from writing and by his appointment as governor of Arizona Territory (1878–1883). In 1890 he was belatedly given a pension but did not live long to enjoy it. The Pathfinder, as he is sometimes called, is one of the most controversial figures of Western history. His critics call him braggart and charlatan; his supporters point to his courage, his handling of men, and his determination to open the West.


Frémont's early reports were combined as Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843–44 (1845). His memoirs (1887) are disappointing and incomplete.

See also biography by A. Nevins (rev. ed. 1955); R. J. Bartlett, John C. Frémont and the Republican Party (1930, repr. 1970); W. Brandon, The Men and the Mountain (1955); L. and A. W. Hafen, ed., Frémont's Fourth Expedition (1960); D. Roberts, Kit Carson, John C. Frémont and the Claiming of the American West (2000); S. Denton, Passion and Principle: John and Jessie Frémont (2007).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Frémont, John Charles


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?