John C. Frémont, 1809-1865

Mathew Brady Studio
Ambrotype, circa 1864
National Portrait Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, DC


John C. Frémont's bright early career combined army life, politics, exploration, investment, and adventure. His transcontinental expeditions united scientific investigation with the practical search for a railroad route across the Rocky Mountains, earning him the title "The Pathfinder." His lively reports (written with the help of his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont) won a popular audience and international acclaim. In the 1840s, Frémont acquired a profitable estate in northern California. He embarked on a political career, becoming one of the state's first senators in 1851 and, as an open opponent of slavery, became the Republican Party's first presidential candidate in 1856. Five years later, President Lincoln named Frémont commander of the western division of the army, with headquarters in St. Louis, but when Frémont independently emancipated all Missouri slaves in August 1861, in advance of federal policy, Lincoln removed him from his command, and his public life came to an abrupt end.

Frémont's career coincided precisely with Brady's quest for American political celebrities. In 1851, Brady included Frémont's portrait in his Gallery of Illustrious Americans. He made this elaborate, double-sided ambrotype around 1856, during Frémont's presidential campaign. During the war he also made carte-de-visite photographs of Frémont and his wife.



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