The 2016 Presidential election features a wide range of Republican contenders. How do they compare to John Charles Fremont, who in 1856 became the very first Republican candidate for President? Adventurer, explorer, military officer, businessman, and U.S. Senator, the current contenders must pool their experience to match Fremont’s remarkable resume.
- Like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich, Fremont was a governor. Only he became the military governor of northern California by right of military conquest, not election.
- Like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum, Fremont was a U.S. Senator – one of the first two U.S. Senators selected by the new state of California to represent the state in Washington.
- Like Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina, Fremont was a businessperson. His $10M California gold country holdings were worth the equivalent of perhaps a half billion dollars today, making Fremont, like Trump, one of the wealthiest candidates for president in U.S. history.
Fremont’s resume included additional accomplishments without parallel among the current contenders. His distinguished career of exploration helped open the West to settlement and popularized the region to countless emigrants who used his reports as their guidebooks: Mormon settlers in Utah, California’s Forty-Niners, and emigrants to Oregon. His unorthodox campaign to conquer California ultimately succeeded, but left him court-martialed and disgraced.
Fremont’s colorful life and career made him vulnerable to allegations of scandal. As a 27-year-old officer, he wooed Jessie Benton, the 15-year-old daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton. Despite the senator’s best efforts to keep the pair apart, they wed in secret when she was 17. Her father reconciled himself to the inevitable, and Jessie Benton Fremont ultimately played a crucial role in helping her husband compile and write the popular reports of his expeditions.
Fremont’s campaign was dogged by claims of illegitimate birth, secret Catholicism, and even cannibalism. Some of these claims were true. And Fremont was hindered by his principled and steadfast opposition to the further spread of slavery – the issue that in four short years would propel the nation into a bloody Civil War.
The Biographies of John Charles Fremont surveys the career of this amazing character and tells how the story of his life was captured by journalists, historians, and biographers.