Image of John C. Frémont via Wikipedia
On August 30, 1861, Union General John Frémont, commanding the Department of the West, issued an emancipation proclamation and confiscation act, stating, "The property, real and personal, of all persons in the state of Missouri who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proven to have taken an active part with their enemies in the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use, and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared freemen."
Since Union General John Frémont had arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 25 to take command of the Department of the West, his reputation had quickly plummeted. The influential Blair family had urged his appointment, but had quickly turned against him, blaming him, among other things, for the death of Nathaniel Lyon, another Blair family favorite, and for the disaster that had befallen the main Union army in the west at Wilson's Creek.
Frémont had much to do -- he was expected to secure the state and plan an expedition down the Mississippi toward New Orleans -- but had little in the way of men or equipment to get the job done. Guerrilla warfare was rapidly becoming rampant in the state, St. Louis seemed to be a hotbed of secessionist activity --Frémont had declared martial law in the city and suppressed two local newspapers on August 14 -- and there was also the problem of the combined army of Confederate/Arkansas/Missouri militia that had defeated Lyon at Wilson's Creek.
Luckily for Frémont, the pro-Southern forces had not followed up on their victory. Ben McCulloch, commander of the Confederate forces, had not wanted to enter Missouri, and now couldn't be persuaded to pursue the defeated Federals to Rolla. The Arkansans, their terms of enlistment nearing an end, had returned home, leaving Sterling Price's state militia force to go it alone.
Frémont had the makings of a good plan to secure the state. Union troops under John Pope were already in the northeastern part of Missouri, stamping out the guerrilla warfare there. Frémont proposed to hold the railroads radiating out from St. Louis by fortifying and garrisoning Rolla, Jefferson City and Ironton. He would protect the Mississippi by fortifying Cape Girardeau, St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois. When all that was done "my plan is New Orleans straight."
One of the few good decisions Frémont would make during his time at St. Louis was to select the right man to command the force at Cairo, Illinois: Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was nominated as a brigadier general of volunteers on July 31. When his father learned of his promotion, he wrote, saying, "Ulyss, this is a good job, don''t lose it."
But two other problems were causing Washington to take a negative view of Frémont. The first was that he needed all kinds of military equipment in a big hurry. This would almost always cause a lot of irregularities and graft. In fact, the War Department was also experiencing some of the same problems on a national scale, which would soon lead to Simon Cameron's ouster from his position as Secretary of War.
This rapid arming of his troops probably exacerbated the problems Frémont was having with the Blairs. They were not getting what they thought was their rightful share of the action.
The other problem was Frémont's headquarters. From Terrible Swift Sword by Bruce Catton:
"It began with the headquarters itself -- with the look of it, the atmosphere that pervaded it, and the people who were visible there. Headquarters had been housed in a good three-story dwelling that lay behind a pleasant lawn enclosed by a stone wall, at Chouteau Avenue and Eighth Street, rented for $6000 a year. The building was not actually too big and although the price was high it perhaps was not really excessive, in view of the fact that this was one of the most important military departments in the United States; but somehow the place seemed a little too imposing. Frémont had guards all over the premises, and there were staff officers to sift his callers -- the unending stream of people who simply had to see the general, most of whom had no business getting within half a mile of him -- and presently people were muttering that the man lived in a vast mansion and surrounded himself with the barriers of a haughty aristocracy.
"Many of these complaints reflected nothing more than the inability of a young republic to understand that an overburdened executive must shield himself if he is to get any work done. (After all, this was the era when the White House itself was open to the general public, so that any persistent citizen could get in, shake the hand of the President and consume time which that harassed official could have used in more fruitful ways.) But it is also true that Frémont brought a great many of these complaints on himself by his inability to surround himself with the right kind of assistants.
"Frémont had a fatal attraction for foreigners -- displaced revolutionists from the German states, from Hungary and from France, fortune hunters from practically everywhere, men who had been trained and commissioned in European armies but who knew nothing at all about this western nation whose uniforms they wore and whose citizens they irritated with their heel-clickings and their outlandish mangling of the American idiom. Frémont was taking part in a peculiarly American sort of war -- Price's backwoods militia was wholly representative -- and Missouri had felt from the beginning that the German-born recruits from St. Louis were a little too prominent. Now headquarters had this profoundly foreign air, and when a man was told that he could not see the general -- to sell a load of hay or a tugboat, to apply for a commission, to give a little information about Rebel plots, or just to pass the time of day -- he was given the bad news in broken English by a dandified type who obviously belonged somewhere east of the Rhine. It was all rather hard to take."
By the end of August 1861, it was all getting to be rather hard to take for Frémont as well. He felt he needed some grand gesture that would set everything right, and thus came his proclamation to the people of Missouri:
Head-quarters of the Western Department,
St. Louis, August 31, 1861.
Circumstances, in my judgment of sufficient urgency, render it necessary that the Commanding General of this Department should assume the administrative powers of the State. Its disorganized condition, the helplessness of the civil authority, the total insecurity of life, and the devastation of property by bands of murderers and marauders who infest nearly every county in the State and avail themselves of the public misfortunes and the vicinity of a hostile force to gratify private and neighborhood vengeance, and who find an enemy wherever they find plunder, finally demand the severest measure to repress the daily increasing crimes and outrages which are driving off the inhabitants and ruining the State. In this condition the public safety and the success of our arms require unity of purpose, without let or hindrance, to the prompt administration of affairs.
In order, therefore, to suppress disorders, to maintain as far as now practicable the public peace, and to give security and protection to the persons and property of loyal citizens, I do hereby extend, and declare established, martial law throughout the State of Missouri. The lines of the army of occupation in this State are for the present declared to extend from Leavenworth by way of the posts of Jefferson City, Rolla, and Ironton, to Cape Giradeau on the Mississippi River.
All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court-martial, and, if found guilty, will be shot. The property, real and personal, of all persons in the State of Missouri who shall take up arms against the United States, and who shall be directly proven to have taken active part with their enemies in the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use; and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free.
All persons who shall be proven to have destroyed, after the publication of this order, railroad tracks, bridges, or telegraphs, shall suffer the extreme penalty of the law.
All persons engaged in treasonable correspondence, in giving or procuring aid to the enemies of the United States, in disturbing the public tranquility by creating and circulating false reports or incendiary documents, are in their own interest warned that they are exposing themselves.
All persons who have been led away from their allegiance are required to return to their homes forthwith; any such absence without sufficient cause will be held to be presumptive evidence against them.
The object of this declaration is to place in the hands of the military authorities the power to give instantaneous effect to existing laws, and to supply such deficiencies as the conditions of war demand. But it is not intended to suspend the ordinary tribunals of the country, where the law will be administered by the civil officers in the usual manner and with their customary authority, while the same can be peaceably exercised.
The Commanding General will labor vigilantly for the public welfare, and in his efforts for their safety hopes to obtain not only the acquiescence, but the active support of the people of the country.
J. C. Fremont,
The proclamation was quickly printed and made public. Frémont also sent a copy to Washington for the president's input.