John Charles Frémont or Fremont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890) was an American explorer, politician, and soldier who, in 1856, became the first candidate of the Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, when he led five expeditions into the American West, that era's penny press and admiring historians accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder
John Charles Frémont was born on January 21, 1813, the son of Charles Frémont, a French-Canadian immigrant school-teacher.His mother, Anne Beverley Whiting, was the youngest daughter of socially prominent Virginia planter Col. Thomas Whiting. Anne took in boarders while Frémont taught French and dancing. A household slave called Black Hannah helped raise young John.
The opening of the American West began in 1804 when third President Thomas Jefferson, envisioning a Western empire, sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the new Louisiana Purchase territory and to find a northwest passage up the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. Frémont, who would later be known as The Pathfinder, carried on this tradition of Western overland exploration, building on and adding to the work of earlier pathfinders to expand knowledge of the American West. Frémont's talent lay in his scientific documentations, publications, and maps made based on his expeditions, making the American West accessible for many Americans. Frémont's initial explorations, his timely scientific reports, coauthored by his wife Jesse, and their romantic writing style, encouraged Americans to travel West. A series of seven maps produced from his findings, published by the Senate in 1846, served as a guide for thousands of American emigrants, depicting the entire length of the Oregon Trail.
Frémont led a private expedition, seeking a rail route over the mountains around the 38th parallel in the winter of 1849. He found and fell in love with the Mexican Land Grant, Las Mariposas - a 44,387-acre Mexican land grant in Mariposa County, California, just west of Yosemite. The ten square league grant was described as being located generally along Mariposa Creek, between the San Joaquin River, Chowchilla River, Merced River, and the Sierra Nevada, and has been called a "floating grant". The grant takes its name from Mariposa Creek, which was named for the monarch butterflies (butterfly means "mariposas" in Spanish).
When gold was found on his Mariposa ranch, Frémont became a wealthy man during the California Gold Rush, but he was soon bogged down with lawsuits over land claims, between the dispossession of various land owners during the Mexican–American War and the explosion of Forty-Niners immigrating during the Rush. These cases were settled by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing Frémont to keep his property.
He bought real estate in San Francisco and lived lavishly, winning election as U.S. senator from California. He drew the short term and served only from Sept. 9, 1850, to March 4, 1851. Afterward he visited Paris and London, where he raised funds for ambitious schemes on the Mariposa.
In 1856 the newly formed Republican party named Frémont its first presidential candidate because of his strong stand on free soil in Kansas and his attitude against enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law. His campaign suffered from a shortage of funds, and he lost, but he was at the peak of his career. Frémont served from 1850 to 1851 as one of the first pair of Senators from California.
At the start of the Civil War, Frémont was touring Europe in an attempt to find financial backers in his California Las Mariposas estate ranch. President Abraham Lincoln wanted to appoint Frémont as the American minister to France, thereby taking advantage of his French ancestry and the popularity in Europe of his anti-slavery positions. However Secretary of State William Henry Seward objected to Frémont's radicalism, and the appointment was not made.
Instead, Lincoln appointed Frémont Union Army Major General on May 15, 1861. Lincoln promoted him Commander of the Department of the West on July 1, 1861. The Western department included the area west of the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River. After Frémont arrived in Washington D.C, he conferenced with Lincoln and Commanding General Winfield Scott, himself making a plan to clear all Confederates out of Missouri and to make a general campaign down the Mississippi and advance on Memphis. According to Frémont, Lincoln had given him carte blanche authority on how to conduct his campaign and to use his own judgement. Frémont's main goal as Commander of the Western Armies was to protect Cairo, Illinois at all costs in order for the Union Army to move southward on the Mississippi River. Both Frémont and his subordinate, General John Pope, believed that Ulysses S. Grant was the fighting general needed to secure Missouri from the Confederates.