The enemy have already occupied, & in force…. Mr. Frémont says send anything in the shape of arms—but arms we must have. Send money, & both arms & money by the most rapid conveyance. It is also my own to say that I don’t like this neglect & I look to you & the President to see that it has not a fatal effect.
—Jessie Benton Frémont, letter from Jessie Benton Frémont to Montgomery Blair (Lincoln’s postmaster general), July 28, 1861, St. Louis, Missouri (Frémont 1993, 256)
As the wife of “The Pathfinder” John Charles Frémont, Union major general and 1864 presidential candidate, Jessie Benton Frémont was politically active through much of the Civil War. From the early years of her marriage, Benton Frémont had advised and assisted her husband with most of his literary and political endeavors. During the Civil War, she continued to perform these roles, hoping to ensure his success on the battlefield and in national politics. Despite her intense involvement in her husband’s affairs, almost all of her political work took place out of the public eye. In addition to her work behind closed doors, Benton Frémont also worked tirelessly on behalf of the Western Sanitary Commission and the UNITED STATES SANITARY COMMISSION in New York City.
As the daughter of the prestigious statesman Missouri Democratic Senator Thomas Hart Benton, Jessie Benton developed an enthusiastic interest in national politics as a young girl living in Virginia and St. Louis. As the result of her father’s influence, she opposed the expansion of slavery into Missouri and the territories. Intellectually curious and articulate, she received a thorough education from the tutors her father handpicked for her. He took seriously his role in her education and enjoyed instructing her in history and politics.
When Benton was 17 years old, she defied her father and created a scandal when she secretly married John Frémont, a then undistinguished, underpaid explorer serving with the U. S. army’s Topographical Corps. From the beginning of their marriage, they formed a working partnership. She assisted Frémont with the writing of government documents reporting on his expeditions to the West. The second of these reports, which she and Frémont