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Icaria History

Etienne Cabet. Colony or Republic of Icaria in the United States of America. Nauvoo, Illinois: Icarian Printing Office, 1852.

Published only three years after the founding of Icaria, this history details Cabet’s “conversion to Communism” and his plans for the new community. Cabet’s “Appeal to the Icarians of Europe and America,” (p. 19) suggests the grandness of his scheme and the degree to which members would have to conform to his plans:

“Icarians of all countries who know well our Icarian System and our Icarian doctrine, who will adopt them completely, who partake of our devotion for the cause of the People ad Humanity, who possess all the qualities necessary, who will fulfill all our exacted conditions, and especially who consent freely and voluntarily to place all our effects in common for the triumph of our system of fraternity and of community, of equality and of liberty, of democracy and republicanism we invite you to come and aid us to found in the desert an Icarian Township and then a State! Come, brothers, and you will be well received!”

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Icaria was founded by Etienne Cabet, a French anti-monarchist who moved to England in 1834. There he wrote who wrote Voyage en Icarie, a novel which imitates More’s Utopia and reflects Rousseau’s French romanticism: return to a simpler, primitive economy where private property and the selfishness inherent in it never existed. His ideas mirrored those of the French Socialists in their plan of social progress through the leadership of a natural elite identified by equal education for both sexes. Cabet knew Robert Owen and borrowed his emphasis on the importance of a healthy physical environment as at New Lanark. He also subscribed to the golden rule: Love your neighbor as yourself; do not unto others the harm you would not have others do to you; do to others the good that you wish for yourself.

In 1849, in Nauvoo, Illinois, Cabet and his followers purchased land and buildings from Mormons who had left for Salt Lake, Utah. The group eschewed money and private property, preferring communal meals and apartment living. Children were moved from their parents’ environment at the age of four and housed in boarding-school buildings; they were allowed to visit home on Sundays, having been taught to love the community, not to have special affection for their parents. Every adult had a job in a workshop or on the farms.

The Icarians supported no religion but they met to discuss Christian morality and Cabet’s teachings. Men and women had equal voices in the weekly assembly which adopted a formal charter that prescribed the political structure described in Voyage-en-Icarie. Annually, they elected a president and four officers in charge of finance, farming, industry, education. Candidates who lived at the commune for four months became members upon election by a majority vote of the Icarian men and the payment of eighty dollars. Other sources of income were funds Cabet raised in Paris and royalties on his writings.

When Cabet proposed a four-year term for himself as president, the group suffered the first of its many splits. As splinter groups moved west, each community continued to cling to its original blueprint of life as put down in Cabet’s book, the dream of a community that would be “a truly second Promised Land, an Eden, an Elysium, a new Earthly Paradise.”