The Campaign of 1856
ELEVATED thus suddenly to a conspicuous political pedestal, chosen by a powerful party as its leader in a great moral crusade, the unexperienced Frémont might have been pardoned some display of awkwardness, at least some tactical misstep. Fifteen years before he had been an obscure, impoverished army lieutenant, without resources or prospects. Now he was rich, famous, and admired, his name written large on the Golden West, the reputed conqueror of California, the dashing young marshal of a gallant cause. It illustrates his modesty and tact that his conduct was exemplary. Frémont had his faults, but lack of taste was never among them. The critical Gideon Welles, in a severe passage written some years after, did him the justice to remember that at this time his public demeanor was winning. "His bearing was very well so far as he appeared before the public. I saw that he was anxious to be elected but not offensively so; he was not obtrusive, but, on the contrary, reserved and retiring."1 If his part in the campaign was open to criticism, it was on the ground that, with his public views and capacities still largely unknown, he kept too much in the background and made altogether too few statements. The nation was asked to accept this untrained man quite too completely on faith.
From the beginning of the campaign, Frémont and the other leaders had genuine hope of victory, which rapidly mounted as news of an increasing free-soil enthusiasm came in from many parts of the North and West. The strategic elements of the situation, as Greeley insisted, were simple. The Republicans____________________