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Charbonnerie Of all of the organizations, secret societies, and conspiracies dedicated to the overthrow of the R estoration monarchy (1814-1830) the most formidable was that of the charbonnerie. Between 1821 and 1823 a group of young intellectuals, came together in the milieu of the jeunesse des écoles, borrowed the title and some of the techniques of the Italian carbonari to fashion a secret society whose purpose was a revolutionary seizure of power. The organization had been founded by students or ex-students who had identified each other in various personal net works, discussion groups and ephemeral organizations in which they could share mutual interests and an antipathy toward the restored dynasty. The more militant elements formed a freemason lodge, Les Amis de La Verité, as a front behind which they could conduct a "patriotic" seminar for the students and the commercial clerks in Paris. This became the center of a militant activism which brought some of the students into a coalition with disaffected soldiers, half-pay officers, and certain groups in other parts of France, of which the most notable was Joseph Rey's organization, l'Union Libéral, which radiated out from Grenoble to other urban centers, including Paris. Thus, Les survivants de l'empire, le débris de l'ancienne république et l'espoir de la nouvelle united in the intention to topple the restored dynasty. This effort, which took the form of an armed putsch in cooperation with soldiers stationed in the military units in the capital, was aborted in August 1820. After this, the more determined, younger radicals decided to form a tighter organization which became the charbonnerie. This was a generational and political coalition that included politicians and professional men in the Paris region, including such dignitaries of the liberal opposition as Lafayette and Voyer D'Argenson, and individuals and groups from other parts of France of widely diverse backgrounds united in hostility to the monarchy. Young republicans conspired with Bonapartist officers on half-pay and proto-Orleanist attorneys for some vaguely asserted right of the French people to establish its own form of government. The very existence of the organization depended on a tacit avoidance of doctrinal issues made easier by the death of Bonaparte in May 1821. The cellular and pyramidal structure of the secret organization allowed it to spread rapidly from Paris to various centers of dissent, notably in Alsace and in the old pro -revolutionary towns strung out from Thouars to Saumur along the eastern edge of the counter- revolutionary borage, as well as in various army units that were to join improvised columns in their march on the capital. In the event, the clandestine organization was not proof against infiltration and betrayal. In 1822 the scheduled insurrection was anticipated by the political police who swept up the conspirators in the army before they could take action. One ragged column did manage to assemble unde r a Napoleonic general and march on the town of Saumur before whose gates it halted and then simply melted away. Although there was not sufficient evidence to bring most of the leaders of the organization to book, the police netted a sufficient number of less prudent elements to stage a series of political trials that contributed ten victims to revolutionary martyrology, notably including the appealing, poignantly naive four sergeants of La Rochelle who became, and remain to this day, the object of a minor cult. The arrest and executions of 1822 marked the end of a large-scale attempt at the overthrow of the Bourbon regime through plot and insurrection, and many of the activists of the conspiratorial organization turned to the legal opposition that contributed to the last crisis of the monarchy in 1830. While ex-carbonari did not notably figure on the barricades in the Three Glorious Days, they were actively engaged in consolidating the new revolutionary administration in Paris. In retro spect, perhaps the most striking aspect of the history of the French carbonari is in the distinguished careers of many of its alumni. Out of that youthful cohort of sometime conspirators emerged the Saint-Simonian coterie of Saint-Amand Bazard, Philippe Buchez, Antoine Cerclet, and others; such social visionaries as Pierre Leroux, Voyer D'Argenson, and F.V. Raspail; the circle of neo-liberals and the acolytes of Victor Cousin, including Paul Dubois, Theodore Jouffroy, Augustin Thierry; and other fledgling cultural dignitaries such as the brothers Scheffer who would find their revolution in 1830 and comfortably occupy the cultural and political heights of the July Monarchy. Indeed, the Restoration conspirators would contribute the first three ministers of justice, a minister of the interior, and a prefect of police to the security of the succeeding regime. On the other hand, a faithful republican remnant including the brothers Cavaignac, Ulysse Trélat, and Armand Carrel, having been "robbed" of their revolution in 1830, would tend the torch throughout all those years until it was relit in 1848. The ironies that characterize the historical intersection of personal trajectories would find ex-Carbonari such as Ulysse Trélat, the minister of public works who liquidated the national workshops, Jules Bastide, minister of foreign affairs under the second republic, and above all, Eugène Cavaignac, the implacable repressor of the June rising, defending their mo derate republican version of the second republic while Louis Auguste Blanqui and Étienne Arago occupied its prisons. In the history of revolutionary movements the charbonnerie figures as a classic example of the failed putsch, but it was remembered and celebrated as a cradle for many versions of nineteenth-century reformist idealism and as a contribution to the tradition, or the mythology, of the long struggle for popular sovereignty in France.
Alan B. Spitzer


A. Calmette, "Le Carbonarie en France sous la Restauration, 1821-1830," La Révolution de1848, IX (1912-1913); X (1912-1914).

Paul Dubois, "Souvenirs inédits," Revue Bleue (1907-1908).

Leonce Grasilier, "Simon Duplay: Mémoire sur les Société Secrètes et les Conspirations," Revue internationale de sociétés secrètes, III (March 5, 1913): 510-554.

François Andre Isambert, De La Charbonnerie au Saint-Simonisme (Paris, 1966). Paris Revolutionnaire, 4 vols. (Paris, 1833-34).

Peter Savigear, "Carbonarism and the French Army," History, LIV (June 1969), 198-211.

Alan B. Spitzer, Old Hatreds and Young Hopes: The French Carbonari Against the Bourbon Restoration (Cambridge,Mass. 1971).

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