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The Icarians (pron.: //) were a French utopian movement, founded by Étienne Cabet, who led his followers to America where they established a group of egalitarian communes during the period from 1848 through 1898.
European roots 
Étienne Cabet was born in France in 1788. He attended law school, practiced politics and journalism and was also a political organizer for a semi-secret revolutionary group called the Carbonari, which had been founded by the Marquis de Lafayette. He was a supporter of the democratic sentiments that led to the July Revolution and was elected to the new national assembly in 1831. However, he criticized the monarchy for not doing enough to restore democratic rights. In 1832, he wrote L'Histoire Populaire de la Revolution Française de 1789 à 1830 (Popular History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1830), an indictment of the ancien regime and of the oppression of 19th century industrial society. Because of this book, he was convicted of treason in 1834 . He fled to London and returned to France in 1839. In England, Cabet was introduced to the ideas of Sir Thomas More and Robert Owen. On his return, he published Voyage en Icarie, (The Voyage to Icaria), a narrative blueprint of a communal Utopia, published initially under a pseudonym in 1840. Cabet's utopian ideas influenced Karl Marx, who later abandoned them, and other socialist thinkers. Their society believed that by sharing property, poverty would be eliminated and everyone could then contribute to the whole and obtain a peaceful existence. The end result would be equality for all. The book was tremendously popular, with hundreds of thousands of readers. In 1846, he wrote Vraie Christianisme Suivant Jesus-Christ, a work influenced by Cathar ideas of dualist anti-materialism and from the anti-clerical ideas of the Enlightenment.
On April 16, 1848, Etienne Cabet rode through the streets of Paris on a white stallion looking for followers for his perfect society. Cabet targeted members of the middle class, also referred to as the bourgeois, as well as peasant farmers. He needed people who had handiness in manufacturing, weaving, tailoring as well as any other useful skills that could ensure that their new society in America would be as self-sufficient as possible. This also included women who could keep house and care for the sick. Silk making was of one of the many trades that Cabet was looking to incorporate. These artisans came from Lyon and other towns.
To advertise this society, he published articles in his newsletter called Le Populaire. This publication was unique because three-quarters of its shareholders were the artisans that followed Cabet's ideas. Le Populaire had a circulation of 4,500, which outsold the other radical papers of the era. It was written in simple language that was attractive to the French middle class. A second publication, Le Village, was written for rural peasant readers, as he realized that he would also need farmers in his American Icaria.
Politics and planning 
For the Icarians, the remedy for any problem would be a better social and political organization. The society was free, meaning that it imposed itself upon no one. Anyone could join as long as they adopted its principles entirely. The political structure consisted on one president who was elected annually, and four officers each in charge of finance, farming, industry and education. Prospective members of the community were admitted by a majority vote of adult males. This was after the prospective member had lived in the society for four months and pledged $80. Members were required to forfeit all of their property.
Cabet was strongly influenced by events of the July Revolution of 1830, in which a democratic uprising replaced the last Bourbon king with an Orleanist monarch who granted a new constitution respecting civil rights. These rights were diminished over time, (Victor Hugo's Les Misérables describes the events of 1832) and Cabet wrote a utopian work about an ideal society entitled Voyage en Icarie. This work captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of readers in France, leading to a utopian movement. In 1847 in Le Populaire, in an article entitled "Allons en Amerique!" Cabet called on his followers to create a real utopian community in the United States.
American settlements 
New Orleans 
In 1848, fifteen hundred followers of Cabet rallied at the port of Le Havre, France to set sail for the United States. They landed at New Orleans and settled near Fort Worth, Texas. They had originally decided on Texas because of the abundant land, freedom from police surveillance and separation of church and state. The Icarians arrived in New Orleans on March 27, 1848 and remained there for almost four years while the Avant-Garde tried to establish a colony in Texas. When the Texas colony proved unsuccessful, the Icarians bought land in Nauvoo, Illinois and moved there in 1852.
Denton County, Texas 
A group of 69 Icarian colonists known as the Avant-Garde travelled from New Orleans to a site in Denton County in Texas (northwest of Dallas), by way of Shreveport and "Sulphur Prairie", arriving at the site on May 31, 1848. The land was inhospitable and they ran out of supplies, causing difficulty for the pioneers. They missed the July deadline for filing a land claim. In August, a second group of Avant-Garde arrived at the colony in Texas. The leadership of the colony decided to abandon the site, and in September the Avant-Garde left Texas and returned to New Orleans. Several more died on the return from Texas.
In 1853, the heirs of Henri Levi filed a claim for land in Ellis County under the Peters Colony Contract and were granted 320 acres (1.3 km2) of land.
Nauvoo, Illinois 
After the failure of the Texas colony, the Icarians decided to head north to Nauvoo, Illinois, a city on the Mississippi River that had recently been vacated by the Mormons after having surpassed Chicago in population to become Illinois' largest city in 1844. Nauvoo became the first permanent Icarian Community in the early 1850s. In the census of 1850, 505 family names are listed in Icarian Nauvoo; by 1854, there were 405 members of the colony. Most of these were from France, though some had come from Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Sweden, Holland, England, and the United States. Two periodical papers were published, the Real Icarienne in French and Der Communist in German.
A charter created by the Society in 1853 specified that residents of the Nauvoo colony were required to donate all their worldly goods to the community, which had to include a minimum of $60. Those who passed a probationary period of four months would be allowed to move to the permanent colony in Iowa.
In 1852, a lawsuit was filed in Paris against Cabet regarding claims by some of the Icarian colonists. Cabet returned to France for 18 months. When he returned, he implemented rules about talking in workshops, banning smoking, and other regulations which were unpopular with some members of the community. The Icarian community in Nauvoo split by a vote of 219 to 180. Cabet and his followers left Nauvoo in October, 1856 and went to St. Louis. The Nauvoo colony had financial difficulties and was forced to disband in 1860.
Corning, Iowa 
In 1852, Icarians purchased land in Adams County, Iowa to form a new permanent settlement, and Icarians began settling southwest of Queen City in 1853. In 1860, when the Nauvoo colony went bankrupt, many members of the community moved to the new site in Iowa. The settlers arrived with nothing but their skills along with $20,000 of debt. Their land was that of 4,000 acres (16 km2) where they first found shelter in mud hovels and then in crudely built log cabins. The colony near what became Corning, Iowa was granted a charter of incorporation by the state of Iowa in 1860. The community prospered during the Civil War by selling food at good prices, and they were able to pay their collective debt by 1870.
In the 1870s, the Icarian colony near Corning had another split. The "vieux icariens" were against allowing women the right to vote, but the "jeunes icariens" were in favor. By a vote of 31-17, the entire community voted against the franchise for women. After that, the jeunes icariens moved to a new site on the same property about one mile southeast. The move was done by moving eight frame houses from the original colony. The vieux icariens community was no longer viable and was forced to disband due to bankruptcy in 1878. The new community established a new constitution in 1879.
In 1898, this last community of Icarians disbanded voluntarily; the members chose to integrate into the surrounding towns. A historical exhibit about the Icarians can be found in the lobby of the Adams County hall in Corning, and a living history site is being rebuilt on the location of the site where the Icarians lived until 1898.
Cheltenham, Missouri 
The Icarians who had left Nauvoo arrived in St. Louis on November 6, 1856. Cabet died two days later. On February 15, 1858, a group of 151 Icarians took possession of a few hundred acres in Cheltenham, St. Louis, Missouri. This colony quickly fell into various arguments. During the Civil War, many young men joined the Union cause. By 1864, only about twenty residents remained on the property. In March 1864, A. Sauva returned the keys to the property to Thomas Allen (from whom the property had been purchased in 1858), leaving a large debt.
In 1872, the buildings went into a state of disrepair, and in 1875, a fire destroyed the buildings on this property, removing the last evidence of the Icarian colony.
Cloverdale, California 
A new colony of "Icaria Speranza" was established by Jules Leroux (brother of French socialist philosopher Pierre Leroux) and Armand Dehay, who in 1881 moved from Jeune Icarie to an area just south of Cloverdale, California. This settlement disbanded in 1886. Today there is a historical marker just south of town marking where their schoolhouse was.
Community structure 
The Icarians (in German, Ikarier) lived in communal dwellings of dormitories that shared central living and dining areas. All families lived in two equal rooms in an apartment building and had the same kind of furniture. Children were raised in a communal creche, not just by their own parents. Tasks were divided among the group; one might be a seamstress and never need to cook.
When the Icarians first arrived at Nauvoo on March 15, 1849, they purchased a number of buildings, grounds, houses, cattle and the like. The burned-out Mormon Temple had an enclosed area of 4 acres (16,000 m2) which the Icarians intended to use as an academy or school.
After all purchases and repairs were done, the Nauvoo Icarian village consisted of a dwelling of individual apartments, two schools (one for girls and the other for boys), two infirmaries, a pharmacy, a large community kitchen with dining hall, a bakery, a butchery, and a room for laundry facilities. Soon thereafter, a steam-powered flour mill, a distillery, pigsty and sawmill were added. A local coal mine was worked for fuel.
The housing situations in Iowa and California were not anywhere near as organized as those in Illinois. What little information is available paints a picture of oppression and despair.
All work was divided by gender. Men worked as tailors, masons, wheelwrights, shoemakers, mechanics, blacksmiths, carpenters, tanners, and butchers. Women worked as cooks, seamstresses, washerwomen and ironers. To earn money, the Icarians established commerce with the outside world by a small store out side of St. Louis. Here they sold their handmade shoes, boots and dresses, and also sold items made by the mills and distillery.
The Icarians believed in a higher power and had a ten-section principle that briefly stated what they thought was needed in a perfect society.
The religion of choice should have an understanding of the following:
- Evil, Misfortune
- Causes of Evil
- God and Perfection
- Destiny of Humanity, Happiness
- The Remedy
- God, Father of the Human Race
At eighteen years of age, the Icarians were instructed on world religions. Marriage in the community was highly encouraged, almost insisted upon. Divorce was allowed; however, members were encouraged to remarry as soon as possible.
Cabet's book Vraie Christianisme (True Christianity) was often read from and formed the dominant influence on religious thought, though it was not intended as a specific instruction on religious observances. In the Iowa colony, the Icarians adopted the practice of an informal religious gathering known as the "Cours Icariens" ("Icarian Course") on Sunday afternoons. In addition to reading from Vraie Christianisme and other books, these gatherings included quiet games and conversation.
Culture in Icaria was the second highest priority, second only to education. The community held several concerts and theatrical productions for the entertainment of its members, performing works such as "The Salamander", "Death to the Rats", "Six Heads in a Hat", or "Fisherman's Daughter".
In Nauvoo, there was a library of over 4,000 books, the biggest in Illinois at the time. The community also distributed a biweekly newspaper titled Colonie Icarienne.
The most important holidays were February 3, the anniversary of the First Departure of Icarians from France, and July 4, the summer festival. On July 4, the refectory was decorated with garlands and boughs; cardboard signs declared "Equality", "Freedom", and "Unity", and banners had quotations like "All for Each; Each for All", "To Each According to Their Needs", and "First Right is to Live; First Duty is to Work". They raised the American flag and played the "Star Spangled Banner" and "America". They travelled into Corning to watch the Fourth of July parade, but they remained apart from the anglophone Americans. At the end of the day, they returned to Icaria (three miles east) for a banquet, dance, and theatrical presentation. Icarians also celebrated Christmas, New Year's Day, and the Fete du Mais, a fall harvest corn festival similar to Thanksgiving.
Gender equality 
Men and women were given equal participation opportunities in weekly community assemblies, voting on admissions, constitutional changes, and the election of the officer in charge of clothing and lodging.
From start to finish, the Icarian movement lasted forty-nine years. Like all utopias of this era, the Icarians met their demise from within their own community. Poor planning and poor financial management along with personal disputes seem to be at the root of the disbandment. Although the disagreements were never mentioned in complete detail, it was obvious that debt was their biggest downfall.
Further reading 
- America's Communal Utopias, by Donald E. Pitzer, 1997, The University of North Carolina Press ISBN 0-8078-4609-0
- An Icarian communist in Nauvoo:commentary, by Emile Vallet. With an introduction and notes by H. Roger Grant, 1917 ISBN 0-912226-06-4
- "Socialism in America", Edited by Albert Fried, 1970, Boston Public Library.
- "Dream Worlds?", by Pamela Pilbeam, 2000, The Historical Journal, Vol 43
- "Communism and the Working Class before Marx", 1971, The American Historical Review Vol. 76
- Soldiers of Humanity, by Dale R. Larsen, 1998, The National Icarian Heritage Society.
- Letters from the Franco-German Yearbooks, Marx to Ruge, September 1843
- Dale R. Larsen (1998). Soldiers of Humanity. The National Icarian Heritage Society.
- "American Experience: The Mormon's". Act 3 - Persecution; Chapter 5. PBS Documentary. (2006) DVD, 240 minutes.
- Paul S. Gauthier (1992). Quest for Utopia. Gauthier Publishing Company, Corning, Iowa 50841. pp. 91-92
- ALBERT SHAW, Ph. D. (1884). "Icaria, Chapter in the History of Communism". G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS. pp. 124ff. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
- Hine, Robert V. (1953). California's Utopian Colonies. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library. pp. 58–77.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Icarians.|