The New International Encyclopædia/Cabet, Etienne

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The New International Encyclopædia
Cabet, Etienne
Edition of 1905. See also Étienne Cabet on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

CABET, kȧ'bắ', Etienne (1788-1856). A French Communist, bom January 1, 1788, at Dijon. Cabet was a true product of the intellectual and social reconstructionists of the era of the Revolution. He was educated as a lawyer, became an efficient Government official as Procureur-Général in Corsica, representing the Government of Louis Philippe, after having headed an insurrectionary committee and participated actively in the July Revolution of 1830. In 1831 he took his seat with the extreme Radicals in the Chamber of Deputies as representative from Côte d'Or. His Radicalism and his revolutionary denunciations aroused the active opposition of the Government, which gave him the choice between two years' imprisonment and live years of exile. He chose the latter, and lived in England studying and thinking out his social philosophy, and finally accepting communism as the only solution of the problems presented by excessive wealth and excessive poverty side by side in modern society. He retumed to France in 1839, and published Voyage en Icarie, a popular romance, setting forth his new communistic ideas, which won followers by the thousands and drove its author to take steps to realize his Utopia. In 1841 he revived the Populaire (originally founded by him in 1833), which was widely read by French workingmen, and from 1843 to 1847 he printed an Icarian almanac, a number of controversial pamphlets, a book on Christianity (Le vrai christianisme suivant Jésus Christ), which makes out Christ's mission to be to establish social equality, and contrasts primitive Christianity with modern ecclesiasticism to the disparagement of the latter, and a popular history of the French Revolutions from 1789 to 1830, in five volumes. In 1847 there were probably 400,000 adherents of the Icarian school, and Cabet turned his attention to a project for a real Icarian colony in America. Influenced by Owen he took a large tract of land in Texas, and sixty-nine men entered into a social contract, making Cabet the director-in-chief for the first ten years, and embarked from Havre, February 3, 1848, to take up land on the Red River in Texas. Cabet came later at the head of a second and smaller band. Texas did not prove to be the Utopia looked for, and, ravaged by disease, about one-third of the colonists returned to France, while the remainder went to Nauvoo in Hancock County, Ill., on a beautiful bend of the Mississippi River, where the Mormons had made a prosperous town before public opinion had driven them to Utah. The new community at Nauvoo prospered, but the location was regarded only as a temporary abiding-place, and Government land was acquired as early as 1852 in southwestern Iowa with a view to removing the community thither, which removal was finally accomplished in 1860 after a split in the community at Nauvoo, part going to Cheltenham, near Saint Louis. Cabet died suddenly of apoplexy in Saint Louis, November 8, 1856, a broken-hearted and disappointed man. He was the inspirer of modern communism at its best, and a writer of more literary merit and moral worth than the calumny which contemporaneous writers in France succeeded in weaving about his name would lead us to believe.

The failure of the Cheltenham colony, to which faction Cabet belonged, and which therefore was recognized in France as the true Icaria, came quickly, and the subsequent history of the Icarian community in Adams County, Iowa, was a record of struggle with debt until 1863, when war prices gave their agricultural products exceptional values. This temporary relief was followed by years of privation, declining numbers, and vanishing hopes. Another split occurred in 1879 between the younger and older members of the community, resulting in a division of the property, the younger element retaining the title and old habitat, while the ‘party of the elders’ accepted, with a bonus of $1500, the eastern division of the land, and organized a ‘New Icarian Community’ about one mile distant from the original village. Consult Shaw, Icaria: A Study in Communistic History (New York, 1884). See Communism.