John C. Frémont 1813–1890

Mathew Brady (1823?–1896)
Ambrotype, c. 1856

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

During a series of four expeditions into the West in the 1840s, John C. Frémont created detailed maps and reports that opened this region to American expansion. Having gained experience conducting survey work while growing up in the Southeast, Frémont joined the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1838. Several years later he led his first western expedition to map the territory through which the Oregon Trail would pass. Accompanied by the mountain man Kit Carson, Frémont became a national hero for identifying a route through the Rocky Mountains.

Yet his reputation was sullied in 1847, when in the midst of the Mexican War he was court-martialed and dismissed from the army for rashly disobeying an order. Entering the political arena, Frémont was elected the first senator from California two years later.

This photograph by Mathew Brady pictures him in 1856, the year he ran unsuccessfully as the first Republican candidate for president.