Major General John C. Fremont Versus President Abraham Lincoln
Compiled by Bennie J. McRae, Jr.
In 1861 Major General John C. Fremont, commanding the Western Department of the Army of the United States, felt the country was drifting toward destruction, and also felt the Administration had not adopted a policy which would reverse the trend, issued the following proclamation:
"All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court martial, and, if found guility, will be shot. The property, real and personal, of all persons in the State of Missouri, who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proven to have taken active part with their enemies in the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use, and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free men."
Shortly after the proclamation was issued, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the removal of Major General Fremont, and the annulling of the proclamation. Many felt the President had given unintentional "aid and comfort" to the enemy and hindered the movement to crush the rebellion.
Before the removal letter was received by Major General Freemont, freedom had been given to a number of slaves, in accordance with his proclamation. The following is an example of his actions:
DEED OF MANUMISSION
Whereas, Thomas L. Snead, of the city and county of St. Louis, State of Missouri, has been taking an active part with the enemies of the United States, in the present insurrectionary movement against the Government of the United States; now, therefore, I, John Charles Fremont, Major-General commanding the Western Department of the Army of the United States, by authority of law, and the power vested in me as such commanding general, declare Hiram Reed, heretofore held to service or labor by Thomas L. Snead, to be FREE, and forever discharged from the bonds of servitude, giving him full right and authority to have, use, and control his own labor or service as to him may seem proper, without any accountability whatever to said Thomas L. Snead, or any one to claim by, through, or under him.
And this deed of manumission shall be respected and treated by all persons, and in all courts of justice, as the full and complete evidence of the freedom of said Hiram Reed.
In testimony whereof, this act is done at headquarters of the Western Department of the Army of the United States, in this city of St. Louis, State of Missouri, on this twelfth day of September, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-one, as is evidenced by the Departmental Seal hereto affixed by my order.
"J. C. FREMONT,
Done at the office of the Provost-Marshal, in the city of St. Louis, the twelfth day of September, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-one, at nine o'clock in the evening of said day.
Witness my hand and seal of office hereto affixed.
A widely held view is that the orders, deeds of manumission, and proclamations by General Fremont Hunter hastened a policy change by the Administration which eventually led to President Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, enlistment of Black soldiers and establishment of the Bureau of Colored Troops in 1863.
REFERENCE: William Wells Brown. THE NEGRO IN THE AMERICAN REBELLION: His Heroism and his Fidelity. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1867. Kraus Reprint Co., New York, 1969.