Imperfect Union: Jessie and John Frémont
This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.
John Frémont was born out of wedlock in 1813 in Charleston, South Carolina and went to work at 13 to help support his family. But, by the time he was 30, he had become a famous wilderness explorer, best-selling writer, gallant army officer and latter-day conquistador, who, in 1846, began the United States’ takeover of California from Mexico. He was a celebrity who personified the country’s westward expansion—mountains, towns, ships and streets were named after him.
A vital factor in his success was his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont, the daughter of a U.S. senator. Not allowed to compete directly in a male world, Jessie Frémont threw her skill and passion into promoting her husband. When John Frémont returned from mapping the Oregon Trail for the Army, Jessie Frémont helped him dramatize his adventures in newspapers and books. And in 1856, John Frémont was chosen, in spite of his southern origins, to be the first-ever presidential nominee of the newly established Republican Party, founded in opposition to slavery.
Inskeep tells the surprisingly modern story of a couple whose joint ambitions and talents intertwined with those of the nascent United States, linking the Frémonts with not one but three great social movements of the time—westward settlement, women’s rights and the opposition to slavery.
Inskeep photo © Mike Morgan
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