How John C. Frémont Died of Peritonitis: The Life and Legacy of the Pathfinder

John C. Frémont was a man of many talents and achievements. He was an explorer, a mapmaker, a military officer, a politician, and a pioneer of the American West. He was also one of the first abolitionists and the first Republican presidential nominee in 1856. But how did he die and what was his legacy? In this article, we will explore the life and death of John C. Frémont, the man who was nicknamed the Pathfinder.

Early Life and Education

John Charles Frémont was born on January 21, 1813, in Savannah, Georgia. His father was a French-Canadian immigrant who worked as a teacher and a merchant, and his mother was a Virginia native who came from a wealthy family. Frémont’s father died when he was five years old, leaving his mother to raise him and his two sisters. Frémont attended the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where he studied mathematics, natural sciences, and languages. He graduated in 1830 and became a teacher himself.

Exploration and Mapping of the West

Frémont’s career as an explorer and mapmaker began in 1838, when he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers as a lieutenant. He was assigned to survey the lands between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, and to explore the Oregon Trail and the Great Basin. He led five expeditions between 1842 and 1853, covering thousands of miles and producing detailed maps and reports of the regions he visited. He also named many geographical features, such as the Great Salt Lake, the Sierra Nevada, and the Golden Gate. He was the first American to see Lake Tahoe and to climb the highest peak in the Rockies, which he named after his father-in-law, Senator Thomas Hart Benton.

Frémont’s expeditions were not only scientific, but also political and military. He was involved in the U.S. annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, and the California Gold Rush. He also interacted with various Native American tribes, sometimes peacefully and sometimes violently. He was accused of massacring several groups of Indians, such as the Sacramento River massacre, the Klamath Lake massacre, and the Sutter Buttes massacre. He also supported the Bear Flag Revolt, a rebellion of American settlers against Mexican rule in California. He became the military governor of California in 1847, but was soon court-martialed and convicted of mutiny and insubordination for disobeying his superior officer, General Stephen W. Kearny. He was pardoned by President James K. Polk, but resigned from the army in 1848.

Political Career and Abolitionism

Frémont settled in California and became a wealthy landowner and miner. He also entered politics and became one of the first two U.S. senators from the new state of California in 1850. He was a member of the Democratic Party, but soon switched to the newly formed Republican Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery. He was the first Republican presidential nominee in 1856, running against Democrat James Buchanan and Know Nothing Millard Fillmore. His campaign slogan was “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Men, Frémont”. He lost the election, but won 11 of the 16 free states and received 33% of the popular vote.

Frémont continued to be active in politics and the anti-slavery movement. He supported John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, and endorsed Abraham Lincoln in 1860. He also served as a major general in the Union Army during the Civil War, commanding the Department of the West. He issued an emancipation proclamation in Missouri in 1861, freeing the slaves of Confederate sympathizers, but was overruled by Lincoln, who feared losing the border states. He resigned from his post in 1862, after being criticized for his autocratic and inefficient administration. He ran for president again in 1864, as the nominee of the Radical Democracy Party, a splinter group of Republicans who opposed Lincoln’s moderate policies. He withdrew from the race in September, after reaching an agreement with Lincoln.

Later Years and Death

After the Civil War, Frémont resumed his business and mining ventures, but also faced financial difficulties and lawsuits. He moved to New York City in 1870, and became the president of the first company to build a railroad across the Rocky Mountains. He also served as the governor of Arizona Territory from 1878 to 1881, and was appointed as a major general in the U.S. Army by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890. He died on July 13, 1890, at his home in New York City, from peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdominal lining. He was 77 years old. He was buried in Rockland Cemetery in Sparkill, New York.

Legacy and Honors

John C. Frémont was a controversial and influential figure in American history. He was a pioneer of the American West, who opened up new lands and opportunities for settlement and development. He was also a champion of freedom and democracy, who fought against slavery and tyranny. He was admired by many, but also criticized by others, for his ambition, courage, and recklessness. He left behind a rich legacy of exploration, mapping, and discovery, as well as a political and social vision that shaped the nation.

Frémont’s name and image are commemorated in various ways across the country. There are several places named after him, such as Fremont County in Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho, Fremont Peak in California and Wyoming, Fremont River in Utah, and the cities of Fremont in California, Nebraska, and Ohio. There are also statues, monuments, and memorials dedicated to him, such as the Frémont Cannon in Nevada, the Frémont Monument in Washington, D.C., and the Frémont House Museum in Arizona. He is also featured on several stamps, coins, and banknotes, such as the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Issue, the 1936 Oregon Trail Memorial Half Dollar, and the 2006 Nevada State Quarter. He is also the subject of many books, films, and documentaries, such as The Pathfinder by James Fenimore Cooper, The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer by Stephen Crane, and The West by Ken Burns.

According to Wikipedia, Frémont is considered by some historians to be “one of the 19th century’s most extraordinary figures”, and by others to be “one of the most overrated figures in American history”. He is also regarded as “the most glamorous and controversial figure in the history of the American West”. He is a part of the American folklore and mythology, and a symbol of the American spirit and adventure.

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