Frémont, Pathmarker of the West

By Allan Nevins | Go to book overview

XXXIV
A Financial Debacle

THE virtual ending of Frémont's public career left him free to turn his attention to private affairs, and opened one of the strangest chapters of his career. It is a chapter marked by dramatic incident and tragic climax. When the war began, Frémont was a multimillionaire; a dozen years later, he was so nearly penniless that but for a few loyal friends he and Mrs. Frémont would hardly have known where they could lay their heads or obtain their next meal.

On the morning of December 13, 1864, a large and curious crowd surged into the Manhattan courtroom in which Judge Mason was presiding over Part Three of the State Supreme Court. The famous trial of ex-Mayor George Opdyke against Thurlow Weed for an alleged libel was about to begin. Every newspaper had sent its reporters to write columns of matter. The ablest lawyers of the city were enlisted, William M. Evarts and Edwards Pierrepont appearing for Weed, and David Dudley Field and former Judge Emott for Opdyke. In later years, men looked back upon the trial as heralding the disclosures of graft in national and city affairs which have made the Reconstruction period seem so shameful in our history. The principal charges published by Weed were that Opdyke had defrauded the city in claims growing from the destruction of a gun factory in the draft riots, had made illicit profits in war contracts, and had despoiled Frémont of much of his California property.1

____________________
1
This trial is fully treated, with verbatim testimony, in a pamphlet published by the American News Company: "New York Supreme Court: The Great Libel Case of George Opdyke vs. Thurlow Weed, 1865".

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