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BOOK REVIEWS259 is putting together the best of modern scholarship on political and foreign policy issues in a wide-ranging overview of the mid- 185Os. Thomas D. Morris Portland State University John Charles Fremont: Character as Destiny. By Andrew Rolle. (Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, 1991. Pp. xvi, 351. $29.95.) Shortly after John Charles Fremont's death, the philosopher Josiah Royce wrote in the Atlantic Monthly (Oct. 1890) that "an analysis of the very peculiar qualities that marked the late General Fremont would doubtless be a charming task for the student of psychology" (548). Numerous writers, most notably the late Allan Nevins, have taken up the challenge of interpreting Fremont, labeling him everything from "The West's Greatest Adventurer" to "Explorer for a Restless Nation" to "A Man Unafraid." It was Nevins who first piqued the interest of Andrew Rolle (Cleland Professor Emeritus of History at Occidental College) in Fremont by asking him to prepare a new sketch for the Encyclopedia Britannica. From the outset Rolle was fascinated by the complexities of Fremont's personality. Adding training in psychoanalysis and psychiatry to his already deep understanding of the historical process, Rolle has now produced an in-depth and intriguing psychobiography of the enigmatic explorer-entrepreneur. The illegitimate son of French emigré Charles Fremont and unhappily married Richmond society matron Anne Pryor, wed to a man many years her senior, John Charles lived throughout his life in the shadow of his origins. The family was constantly on the move until the father died when Fremont was five years old, after which his mother located in Charleston. It is Rolle's contention that John Charles developed a narcissistic complex because the "formative years of childhood were obscured by long shadows," and he thereby "fashioned an image of himself based in large measure upon fantasy" (281). Fremont had great difficulty in reconciling his father's early death and subsequent "abandonment" of the family, which left them generally impoverished. According to Rolle, Fremont kept these feelings deeply implanted within himself, never mentioning his father and indeed, in his memoirs, glossing over the first sixteen years of his life with little commentary. Trusting few people, Fremont developed early a love for adventure, and by age twenty-five he seemed to have found his niche in the Topical Engineers Corps of the United States Army. Over the next fifteen years he would explore and chart much of the West in a series of expeditions that would bring him lasting fame. His great ally became his father-inlaw , the expansionist-minded Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, with whose daughter, Jessie, Fremont eloped in 1841. Although initially opposed to 260CIVIL WAR HISTORY the marriage, Benton reconciled quickly with the young couple and perhaps emerged as the closest thing to a father figure that Fremont ever had. The dominant influence in Fremont's life beyond this point, however, became his wife, Jessie, who passionately defended and excused his every action. Fremont was, in modern parlance, "a loner." Those who followed him on his several expeditions found him to be a man of intrepid courage, contemptuous of danger to the extent that he frequently endangered their lives, as in his ill-advised crossing of the Sierra in midwinter on his second far-western expedition of 1843-44. Rolle says that "fashioning a strange quilt of personal isolation, he developed a state of mind sometimes called 'psychic numbness,'" showing "considerable indifference to pain or pleasure" (279). Fremont's later career was marked by mercurial ups and downs. When he was nominated as the Republican party's initial presidential candidate in 1856, his father-in-law Benton declined to support him—a move that seriously hurt his candidacy. He was constantly embroiled in fortuneseeking schemes with usually less than salutary results. Appointed one of the initial four major-generals in the Union army at the outset of the Civil War, Fremont spent a controversial hundred days in Missouri in the fall of 1861 locking horns with President Lincoln over his premature Emancipation Proclamation and with the powerful Blair family, which had helped secure him the post of commander of the Western Department , over his military policies. Here his main problem seemed to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 259-260
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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