US & World

Calif.'s first senator served just six months

Vintage print of John C. Fremont.
Vintage print of John C. Fremont.

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September 9 is California’s 160th birthday. One of its first senators is a familiar name: John C. Fremont.

John Fremont led expeditions with Kit Carson in the Wild West. He commanded U.S. troops in California during the Mexican-American War. His father-in-law was the popular Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton.

So when California won statehood in 1850, the legislature chose Fremont as one of its first U.S. senators.

One of his first votes was to outlaw the slave trade in the District of Columbia and against the Fugitive Slave Act. That got Fremont into trouble with some California legislators who put him in the Senate.

Senate Historian Donald Ritchie says Fremont’s had difficulty getting along with others.

"I mean it works fine as long as you’re a pathfinder in the wilderness," he says, "but when you had to do anything in a political nature, he tended to be abrasive and rub people the wrong way."

Fremont served only six months in the Senate — from September of 1850 to March of 1851. The state legislature sent a pro-slavery Democrat in his place. But that wasn’t the end of Fremont’s political career. He served as a Union general in the Civil War, and he ran for President twice.