February 10, 2013
Until Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on 22 September 1862, the President’s enunciation of Civil War aims centered squarely upon the restoration of the Union, and purposefully omitted the inclusion of the abolition of slavery. Dismantling the institution of slavery was not his ultimate objective, and Lincoln was forced to pursue a war strategy that would not push the slaveholding border -states into the open arms of the Confederacy. General John C. Fremont, however, living up to his reputation for impulsive acts and liberal interpretations of his own authority, proclaimed the freedom of any slave confiscated under his command in Missouri. This order ran counter to Lincoln’s war strategy and threatened to deliver Kentucky and other border - states to the Confederacy. Nevertheless, although Fremont’s decision was injudicious and unconstitutional according to Lincoln, the conditions in Missouri, the strategic importance of holding that state, and the latitude given by the ministration to Fremont in his western department command, indicate that his order may have had military and political value, but that it was ill-timed. As a result, Lincoln did not censure or relieve Fremont for this particular act, but congenially asked him to amend his proclamation to avert unwanted political and military consequences. Lincoln’s belief in the utility of emancipation as a tool to defeat the South was demonstrated a year later with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. In the course of a lifetime, each person will act and react in various ways when he or she is confronted with particular circumstances and situations. While individual expressions of behavior can be misleading, partners of behavior can reveal true character and values. Fremont is no exception. Long before he proclaimed the slaves of Missouri’s Confederate sympathizers to be free, Fremont frequently acted and interacted in a manner that indicated an aversion to authority, an enduring pride, and an impulsive and independent nature. The strength of these characteristics will be made clear in a discussion of his emancipation order, but first it is necessary to examine a selection of Fremont’s earlier experiences so that the order can be put in better perspective. Fremont is best known for his role as an instrument of America an Empire as he surveyed and mapped the burgeoning American frontier. Joining the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1838, he led expeditions in 1841, 1843, 1845, 1848, and 1853 that explored areas of the North American continent ranging from the region between the Upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers to the Pacific coast. These expeditions earned Fremont a national reputation and the celebratory title of “Pathfinder.” They also instilled in him a tendency towards independent and reactive behavior as he adapted to the demands of the trail. Operating far from the center of national authority in Washington, Fremont exercised his own judgment in the wilderness. In his expeditions, Fremont’s free -agent mentality was a liability at times. For example, the preparations for his second expedition (1843) included the acquisition of a twelve -pound brass howitzer —a heavy armament for an ostensibly peaceful, non -military undertaking. Beginning in St. Louis, Fremont and his party followed a circuitous route t o the Pacific coast, al the while unaware that Colonel John J. Albert, head of the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, had requested that Fremont explain the necessity of the howitzer. Upon his return, Fremont was met by Albert’s reprimand. He had transported a howitzer without authorization into disputed territory when U.S. relations with the parties to the dispute, Mexico and Great Britain, were fragile. His action...