1 minute read

John Charles Frémont Court-Martial: 1847-48

The Showdown, The Trial

Defendant: John Charles Frémont
Crime: Mutiny, disobedience, conduct prejudicing good order and military discipline
Chief Defense Lawyers: Thomas H. Benton, William Carey Jones
Chief Prosecutor: John Fitzgerald Lee, Judge Advocate
Presiding Officer: G. M. Brooke
Court: De Russey, T. F. Hunt
Place: District of Columbia (Washington Arsenal)
Date of Trial: November 2, 1847-January 31, 1848
Verdict: Guilty of all charges
Sentence: Dismissal from the army and loss of all privileges

SIGNIFICANCE: In one of the most tainted court-martials in American history, a man who would be a candidate for president in less than 10 years was charged with the most serious crimes an officer might commit. The trial itself was highly irregular and the sentence was never carried out, but the reputation of the principals would forever remain tarnished.

When Captain John Charles Frémont set off from St. Louis, Missouri in the summer of 1845, he was commanding his third major western expedition for the U.S. Army Topographical Corps and was already something of a national celebrity. By March 1846 he was in northern California and challenging the Spanish who owned this land. When war broke out between the United States and Mexico in April, Frémont moved quickly to provide military support to the American settlers who raised the Bear Flag in revolt in June and declared an independent republic. By January 1847, now a lieutenant colonel, Frémont was accepting the surrender of the last of the Spanish forces in California. He seemed to be at the peak of his career, but his troubles were just beginning.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882