Articles by Karl Marx in Die Presse 1861

The Dismissal of Frémont

Written: circa November 19, 1861;
Source: Marx/Engels Collected Works, Volume 19;
Publisher: Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964;
First Published: Die Presse No. 325, November 26, 1861;
Online Version: 1999;
Transcription: Bob Schwarz and Tim Delaney.

London, November 19, 1861

Frémont's dismissal from the post of Commander-in-Chief in Missouri forms a turning point in the history of the development of the American Civil War. Fremont has two great sins to expiate. He was the first candidate of the Republican Party for the presidential office (1856), and he is the first general of the North to have threatened the slaveholders with emancipation of slaves (August 30, 1861). He remains, therefore, a rival of candidates for the presidency in the future and an obstacle to the makers of compromises in the present.

During the last two decades the singular practice developed in the United States of not electing to the presidency any man who occupied an authoritative position in his own party. The names of such men, it is true, were utilised for election demonstrations, but as soon as it came to actual business, they were dropped and replaced by unknown mediocrities of merely local influence. In this manner Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, etc., became Presidents. Likewise Abraham Lincoln. General Andrew Jackson was in fact the last President of the United States who owed his office to his personal importance, whilst all his successors owed it, on the contrary, to their personal unimportance.

In the election year 1860, the most distinguished names of the Republican Party were Frémont and Seward. Known for his adventures during the Mexican War, for his intrepid exploration of California and his candidacy of 1856, Frémont was too striking a figure even to come under consideration as soon as it was no longer a question of a Republican demonstration, but of a Republican success. He did not, therefore, stand as a candidate. It was otherwise with Seward, a Republican Senator in the Congress at Washington, Governor of the State of New York and, since the rise of the Republican Party, unquestionably its leading orator. It required a series of mortifying defeats to induce Mr. Seward to renounce his own candidacy and to give his oratorical patronage to the then more or less unknown Abraham Lincoln. As soon, however, as he saw his attempt to stand as a candidate fail, he imposed himself as a Republican Richelieu on a man whom he considered as a Republican Louis XIII. He contributed towards making Lincoln President, on condition that Lincoln made him secretary of State, an office which is in some measure comparable with that of a British Prime Minister. As a matter of fact, Lincoln was hardly President-elect, when Seward secured the Secretaryship of State. Immediately a singular change took place in the attitude of the Demosthenes of the Republican Party, whom the prophesying of the "irrepressible conflict" between the system of free Labour and the system of slavery had made famous. Although elected on November 6, 1860, Lincoln took up office as President only on March 4, 1861. In the interval, during the winter session of Congress, Seward made himself the central figure of all attempts at compromise; the Northern organs of the South, such as the New York Herald, for example, whose bête noire Seward had been till then, suddenly extolled him as the statesman of reconciliation and, indeed, it was not his fault that peace at any price was not achieved. Seward manifestly regarded the post of Secretary of State as a mere preliminary step, and busied himself less with the "irrepressible conflict" of the present than with the presidency of the future. He has provided fresh proof that virtuosos of the tongue are dangerously inadequate statesmen. Read his state dispatches! What a repulsive mixture of magniloquence and petty-mindedness, of simulated strength and real weakness!

For Seward, therefore, Frémont was the dangerous rival who had to be ruined; an undertaking that appeared so much the easier since Lincoln, in accordance with his legal tradition, has an aversion for all genius, anxiously clings to the letter of the Constitution and fights shy of every step that could mislead the "loyal" slaveholders of the border states. Frémont's character offered another hold. He is manifestly a man of pathos, somewhat high-stepping and haughty, and not without a touch of the melodramatic. First the government attempted to drive him to voluntary retirement by a succession of petty chicaneries. When this did not succeed, it deprived him of his command at the very moment when the army he himself had organised came face to face with the foe in south-west Missouri and a decisive battle was imminent. Frémont is the idol of the states of the North-west, which sing his praises as the "pathfinder." They regard his dismissal as a personal insult. Should the Union government meet with a few more mishaps like those of Bull Run and Ball's Bluff, it has itself given the opposition, which will then rise up against it and smash the hitherto prevailing diplomatic system of waging war, its leader in John Frémont. We shall return later to the indictment of the dismissed general published by the War Department in Washington.