Frémont, John C. Collection, circa 1856-1889 | Illinois History and Lincoln Collections
This collection contains two photographs of John C. Frémont and a textile from his 1856 presidential campaign, along with a photograph of his father-in-law, Senator Thomas Hart Benton.
John C. Frémont (1813-1890) was an explorer and politician from Savannah, Georgia. He led a series of expeditions into the Far West, land that is now the State of California. He married Jessie Benton Frémont, daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton. Jessie Benton Frémont would be active in politics alongside her husband. Frémont was first the military governor of California, and later became a senator. He was a member of the Free-Soil Party, which opposed slavery expanding into the western territories. Because they lacked a strong presence in elections, the Free-Soil Party dissolved in the 1850s and many of its members joined the newly formed Republican party. In 1856, Frémont ran for president as the first Republican Party candidate. He lost to the Democratic candidate James Buchanan. During the Civil War, he served as commander of the Department of the West, which included Illinois and all the territory between the Mississippi and the Rockies. He later served as the governor of the Arizona Territory from 1878-1881.
This collection contains a woven textile sign from the 1856 presidential election and two photographs of John C. Frémont, along with a photograph of his father-in-law, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who served in the US Senate from 1821-1851. The sign reads, “Free speech! Free men! Frémont & Dayton.” This slogan was a variation on the Free-Soil Party slogan, “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, Free Men.” One of the photographs is captioned “Gen. Frémont and party in Big Tree Grove, near Santa Cruz, Cal,” showing a group of individuals in formal wear holding hands next to a sequoia tree labeled “The Giant.” The second is an 1889 portrait of Frémont with two handwritten notes on the front and back. The photo portrait of Senator Benton contains a note handwritten on the back by Benton’s daughter, Jessie Benton Frémont, saying that it is the last photograph taken of Senator Benton, and that the copy belonged to her at that time. The note dates to her time in Los Angeles in the last 10 years of her life.
The campaign flag or sign and two photographs of Frémont were gifted to the Illinois Historical and Lincoln Collections on October 2, 2015, by Professor Emerita Mary Lee Spence, having been gifted to her by Allan Nevins, a historian and Frémont biographer, and himself a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, many years previously. The photograph of Senator Benton was processed in 2022, but had been donated prior to that year.