“Anyone who has ever imagined living life totally on his or her own terms would do well to study the lessons of Passion and Principle, Sally Denton’s lively revisionist accounting of John and Jessie Frémont. . . . Denton, whose books include American Massacre and Faith and Betrayal, is a wonderful writer, and was fortunate to have had in the Frémonts two willing helpmates. . . . Denton handily makes the case for elevating the couple’s stature in the history books.”— New York Times Book Review
New York Times Book Review
“A fascinating story of love and struggle . . . sheds light on a character only dimly known; few remember Jessie Frémont at all, let alone in her roles in the exploration of the West and the battle against slavery. Who knew that expansion and emancipation, the two great projects of nineteenth-century America, were so helped along by someone Lincoln once called ‘quite a female politician’?”— American Heritage
American Heritage Publishing Staff
"While John has many bios, this book is unique in being about both. John without Jessie is only half the story; this book completes the story in a readable, informative and enjoyable book."—James Durney, Those who can’t write, review
Those who can’t write, review - James Durney
Passion and Principle really belongs to Jessie — she was the better writer and had profoundly superior social skills — and Denton handily makes the case for elevating the couple’s stature in the history books. But the Frémonts’ self-righteousness, if played down by the author, serves as a cautionary and often humorous subtext. Like so many progressives, the Frémonts were mostly right, but couldn’t help reminding everyone else of that fact, and, ultimately, it did them in. Even back then, nobody liked an “I told you so.” The New York Times
Denton (American Massacre) produces an intriguing take on the life and times of John C. Fremont (1813-1890), explorer of the West, traveling partner of Kit Carson, California senator, unyielding abolitionist and the Republican Party's first presidential candidate (he lost the 1856 election to James Buchanan). This is not a conventional political biography but a portrait of the five-decade-long marriage between Fremont and Jessie, a daughter of Missouri Democratic senator Thomas Hart Benton, set against the tumultuous background of 19th-century America. It is certainly the first narrative in which Jessie Fremont is accorded equal weight, and is by far the most sympathetic-not just to her, but also to him. John, all too often depicted as a semicompetent and fraudulent megalomaniac, emerges as an immensely talented explorer, overtrusting soul and introverted scientist. Jessie's historical caricature as a hysterical shrew and control freak is sensitively tempered by Denton into a complex amalgam of indomitability and idealism constrained by her times into playing second fiddle. Jessie's accomplishments, writes Denton, "were attained not through John as her surrogate, but with John as her partner." As Denton shows, Bill and Hillary are not the first American power couple. 16 pages of b&w illus. (May) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Faith and Betrayal: A Pioneer Woman's Passage in the American West) tackles the story of 19th-century explorer, Civil War Union general, and (in 1856) inaugural Republican presidential nominee John Frémont and his politically influential wife, Jessie Benton Frémont. She relies heavily on primary sources such as letters, diary entries, and official government documents to untangle the convoluted and widely misperceived political careers and personal lives of her subjects. Denton's research strives to explain Jessie's role in her husband's controversial attempts to abolish slavery, and she convincingly refutes popular historiography's perception of John as fortuitously marrying into a politically powerful family and coasting on his wife's talent. The Frémonts' story stretches from the advent of Manifest Destiny through the Civil War, and Denton tells the tale well, in dense but always readable detail. This original and engaging work is sure to be a boon to historians studying Old West exploration or political entanglements and military actions leading up to the Civil War. Highly recommended for all academic and large public libraries. Douglas King
Western historian Denton (Faith and Betrayal, 2005, etc.) offers a revisionist treatment of the fearless Pathfinder and his talented, ambitious wife. History has unfairly maligned John and Jessie Fremont, the author argues. Both were attractive, charismatic figures: bright, highly educated and articulate. The "passion" of the title alludes to the Fremonts' very affectionate 50-year marriage and to their commitment to various social and political causes, including abolition. The "principle" lies in their refusal to compromise those core convictions, even when wealth and political power hung in the balance. Denton begins with their initial meeting, described in swooning phrases that would make an apt additional verse to "Some Enchanted Evening." Indeed, as she retreats in time to summarize her principals' pre-swoon biographies, the author's florid prose seems overly colored by the 19th-century sources she consulted (from which she might profitably have ascertained the correct usage of words like "fulsome" and "sojourn"). Denton also repeatedly and unnecessarily quotes from other biographers and historians, sometimes on simple matters of fact. The facts themselves are intriguing. John, the offspring of a dashing French refugee and a Virginia woman who may not have been divorced from her first husband, was 11 years older than Jessie when their son was born in 1813. Jessie was the daughter of aristocratic Senator Thomas Hart Benton, who disapproved so strongly of her suitor that they wed secretly. Together or apart-they were separated for long periods-the Fremonts made a formidable team. They were ambitious, cultivating relationships with some of the most celebrated political and culturalfigures of the century. (They once summered with Longfellow and the Whittiers.) He trusted her implicitly and sent her on missions of enormous significance. They made and lost fortunes in gold-mining and railroad speculation-and very nearly won the White House in 1856, when John was the newly formed Republican Party's first presidential candidate. The Fremonts' story remains compelling, even when manhandled by a maladroit biographer.