John C. Frémont was a very well-known figure in the Civil War Era; known from his exploits in obtaining California for the United States during the Mexican War; and from being the first Republican presidential candidate in 1856.
Postmaster General Montgomery Blair and his brother, Frank Blair, Jr., highly recommended Frémont for the job of Commander of the West based in Missouri, and Abraham Lincoln initially approved the appointment of the abolitionist Frémont, believing he would be a loyal representative of the administration.
Unfortunately, Frémont was loyal to nobody but himself and his cause.
Soon after taking the position, Frémont ordered that slaves be taken in Missouri from those who were disloyal to the Union.
At that time, Lincoln was walking a tight-rope with border slave-states like Missouri, trying to keep them from going to the Confederacy – and freeing slaves unilaterally might just bend Missouri to the South.
In response, Lincoln publicly revoked Frémont’s proclamation, which upset Northern abolitionists.
In the meantime, allegations of gross misconduct and mismanagement by Frémont started emerging from the people who recommended him in the first place – the Blair Family.
Lincoln had to get rid of him, but was stuck because he did not want to further anger radical abolitionist Republicans who might very well nominate Frémont in the next election, and divide the party.
Instead of firing Frémont for disobeying Lincoln’s policy of leaving emancipation decisions to Lincoln, which might seem right to only some people, he sent his then-Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas to analyze the allegations of Frémont’s army in Missouri.
Their report issued a long verified list of derelictions.
Lincoln then had the War Department leak the report to the press, even though the Administration would suffer embarrassment, too.
Within a day of the report’s publication, Lincoln appeared justified in firing Frémont.
In this situation, Lincoln was willing to take a small public relations hit – one that couldn’t be directly attributed to him – in exchange for ridding himself of the troublemaking Frémont.
- Frémont ran a third-party candidacy for President in 1864, unable to get the nomination from Republicans.
- Frémont eventually got his revenge on the Blairs by promising to end his candidacy if Lincoln would fire Montgomery Blair; Lincoln might not have done so, but Blair resigned anyway to save his boss’ reelection.
- Missouri and the original border slave-states stayed with the Union throughout the Civil War.
Especially in today’s litigation-happy environment, it’s very hard to terminate someone. You can’t just do it for political purposes. Be aware that person may still come back to haunt you in the long run. You need to be justified in the eyes of your people, and need overwhelming evidence that the person is not doing their job.