Taken 16-Jan-16
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Date modified16-Jan-16 12:30
I10053 - Gen. John C. Frémont

I10053 - Gen. John C. Frémont

"All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court-martial, and, if found guilty, will be shot. The property, real and personal, of all persons in the State of Missouri who shall take up arms against the United States ... is declared to be confiscated to the public use; and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free." Frémont Emancipation Proclamation

Surprise! On August 30, 1861, sixty days after taking command of the Department of the West, MAJ Gen John C. Frémont issued a military proclamation freeing slaves and placing Missouri under martial law.

Lincoln, who learned about it in the newspapers, had Frémont modify the Proclamation to keep the border states in the Union. He also began looking for a reason to get rid of Frémont, nationally famous for mapping the Oregon Trial, California Trail and being the first Republican presidential candidate in 1856.

Frémont made it easy. He ran his St. Louis headquarters like an European court. He liked pomp. His personal staff wore uniforms decked out with feathers and gold loops, arranged for an elite force of 300 Kentuckians, selected for similar height as guards and foreign adventurers abound.

Military men who needed to see Frémont found it, "more trouble than it would be to get an audience with the Czar of Russia."

To get the supplies he needed, Frémont surrounded himself with old cronies from California. A Congressional investigating committee called them, "a gang of California robbers and scoundrels." The national scandal was enough for Lincoln to remove Frémont and later transfer him to the Mountain Department.

Frémont's greatest impact during the Civil War was not on the battlefield. Before leaving the Dept of the West, Frémont appointed Ulysses S. Grant as commander of the strategic base at Cairo, Illinois. Grant was the last officer he interviewed for the job. Despite leaving the army seven years earlier under a cloud, Frémont concluded that Grant was an "unassuming character not given to self elation, of dogged persistence, of iron will."

Frémont's greatest achievement was giving Lincoln ideas on how to implement his Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln concluded that emancipation could not be a matter of martial law or some other temporary measure. It had to be permanent, it had to be constitutional. Just as important, the timing could not interfere with the war effort. By acting impulsively, Frémont was able to light the road to national emancipation.