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Icarian Constitution

Constitution of the Icarian Community
. Nauvoo, Illinois: Icarian Printing Establishment, 1854.

Among the “preliminaries” to the constitution, adopted in 1850 and rediscussed and readopted in 1851, is the following statement:

“Let us then replace the old world by a new one; the reign of Satan or evil by the reign of God, or goodness; moral death by resurrection, regeneration, and life; darkness  by light, habit and prejudice by the experience of past ages, error by truth, ignorance by instruction and education, injustice by justice domination and servitude by enfranchisement and liberty; Aristocracy by democracy; monarchy by republicanism.”

However, the “Advertisement” which precedes this vision, and which dates from 1854, announces that M. Cabet has insisted that he “for ten years be absolute Governor and Director of the experiment, so as to enable him to direct the same in accordance with his doctrine and ideas, and to take all possible precautions essential to success.” Cabet had planned to have the colony elect its leader freely and annually.

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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.”