Passion and Principle

passionprincipleAuthors have written excellent books on John C. Fremont (Allan Nevins, Ferol Egan) and even one (Pamela Herr) on his wife. Because of their devotion to one another, the Fremonts are sometimes compared to the Custers. Both wives were great defenders of their husbands’ reputations, and both became writers in their own right.

But while Libbie Custer was a “Keeper of the Flame” after the general’s death in 1876, Jessie and John Fremont formed a real team for 50 years. Theirs was a unique partnership, with Jessie being denigrated as a meddler-in-petticoats by generals and politicians jealous of her husband’s career. Denton does not detail the expeditions which proved Fremont to be a great explorer, for Egan has attended to that aspect well. She does give us a clear picture of his role in politics, especially in regard to Abolition. Fremont’s premature freeing of the slaves in Missouri angered President Lincoln (not yet ready to issue his own Emancipation Proclamation) and led to the Pathfinder’s dismissal from command. The remainder of the couple’s lives was a slow, but steady, downhill progression, not to disgrace, but to neglect and poverty. The narrative is well-done; it will hold the reader’s interest. —Richard H. Dillon

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