Steve Inskeep tells the riveting story of John and Jessie Frémont, the husband and wife team who in the 1800s were instrumental in the westward expansion of the United States, and thus became America's first great political couple

John Frémont grew up amid family tragedy and shame. Born out of wedlock in 1813, he went to work at age thirteen to help support his family in Charleston, South Carolina. He was a nobody. Yet by the 1840s, he rose to become one of the most acclaimed people of the age—known as a wilderness explorer, bestselling writer, gallant army officer, and latter-day conquistador, who in 1846 began the United States’ takeover of California from Mexico. He was a celebrity who personified the country’s westward expansion. Mountains, towns, ships, and streets were named after him.

How did he climb so far? A vital factor was his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont, the daughter of a United States senator. Jessie wanted to play roles in politics and exploration, which were then reserved for men. Frustrated, she threw her skill and passion into promoting her husband. Ordered by the US Army to map the Oregon Trail, John traveled thousands of miles on horseback, indifferent to his safety and that of the other members of his expeditions. When he returned home, Jessie helped him to shape dramatic reports of his adventures, which were reprinted in newspapers and bound as popular books. Jessie became his political adviser, and a power player in her own right. In 1856, the famous couple strategized as John became the first-ever presidential nominee of the newly established Republican Party. The party had been founded in opposition to slavery, and though both Frémonts were Southerners they became symbols of the cause. 

With rare detail and in consummate style, Steve Inskeep tells the story of a couple whose joint ambitions and talents intertwined with those of the nascent United States itself. Americans linked the Frémonts with not one but three great social movements of the time—westward settlement, women’s rights, and opposition to slavery. Theirs is a surprisingly modern story of ambition and fame; they lived in a time of globalization, technological disruption, and divisive politics that foreshadowed our own. The Frémonts’ adventures amount to nothing less than a tour of the early American soul.
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