The Free Hand of Major General John Charles Fremont
In the summer of 1861 when the Pathfinder John C. Fremont was called on by the President to bring order to the affairs then going on in the state of Missouri, it became quite clear that he misconstrued his orders from the Chief Executive.
Contrary to current national policy Major General Fremont had acted immediately when the light bulb went off in his mind one night. Martial Law was thus declared and all persons taken with arms in their hands within the boundaries of military jurisdiction would be tried by court martial and executed. Furthermore all property of the said individual will be confiscated and their slaves declared free. Acting solely on his own accord he placed his emancipation proclamation to paper on August 30, 1861 and immediately issued it.
This act stimulated immediate controversy among members of President Lincoln's cabinet, chiefly that of Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, who as a friend of the department commander was appalled at his activities, prompting the President to act.
On the 2nd day of September, the President did put his thoughts on the matter in writing and was troubled by the general's desire to shoot citizens of the state. This was unsatisfactory and no man would be shot without presidential consent. His next concern was the emancipation of the black slave. Lincoln understood that such an act would cause their southern unionists great alarm turning those against the federal government and thus ruining any prospects of keeping Kentucky in the union as well. It was suggested both be modified.
At the hand of his wife Mrs. Jessie B. Fremont, he delivered to Washington the explanations of his actions. This perturbed Mr. Lincoln in that the emancipation of the black slave should not have been dragged into the issue of a war being fought over a divided nation, and would never have been done had he consulted with Frank Blair on the matter.
The answer General Fremont was seeking from the president by sending his wife along, was a written order that his emancipation be thus modified. The suggestion previously received was not good enough for the flamboyant general officer. This, the President happily consented to.
The essence of Fremont's command in Missouri was marked more as a military dictator rather than general officer of the army. The policies engineered by his hand continued contrary to the wishes of his own government, his emancipation proclamation issued across the state of Missouri unmodified.
Finally, the White House had had enough. Wishing General Fremont to return to his responsibilities of military commander, Lincoln passed an order off to General Samuel Curtis, one of watching the current actions of the Pathfinder. If he was found preparing to bring battle to the belligerent military forces in Missouri, his order was not to be delivered. To the contrary, General Fremont was found as usual issuing his own political policies throughout the state. The order called for his relief and at least for the time being the federal government had rid itself of a policy maker without authority.
Major General John C. Fremont having completely taken liberty of his free hand in Missouri would learn the hard way that national policy is not to be devised at the hands of the military, simply enforced.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a new feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org