Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Fremont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War

Penguin Pr. Jan. 2020. 480p. ISBN 9780735224353. $32. HIST
Inskeep (host, NPR’s Morning Edition; Jacksonland) begins this latest work with an 1845 incident intended to demonstrate the enormous fame of John Fremont (1813-90) at that time. After a local newspaper reported Fremont’s arrival in St. Louis prior to his third expedition of the American West, he was assailed by an unruly mass of men who wished to join him. Inskeep proposes that the main reason behind Fremont’s celebrity status was his wife Jessie Benton Fremont (1824-1902), the daughter of influential senator Thomas Hart Benton. Jessie Benton Fremont was politically ambitious; since holding office was not possible for women at the time, she put her efforts into supporting and promoting her husband, introducing him to influential people in government and media, and helping him write reports of his adventures. Later, she advised him politically when he became the first presidential candidate of the Republican Party in 1856. The story of the Fremonts is captured skillfully throughout this enjoyable work.
VERDICT Well-written, entertaining, and strongly recommended for readers interested in American history.

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