End of Icaria – Individualism Outshines Communism


NEW ICARIA ENDED

Judge Towner Signs the Decree Which Closes Its History.

END OF ICARIAN SYSTEM

The Adams County Community the Last of the Icarian Settlements — Some Interesting History as to Origin of the Colony.

The most long-lived and undoubtedly the most nearly successful of all the experiments ever made in the western hemisphere with pure communism, came to an end when, late Saturday afternoon, Judge H. M. Towner, in the district court, entered an order discharging the receiver of the New Icarian community, and formally declared the community and its affairs ended.

Etienne Cabet, scholar, historian, sociologist and philanthropist; who two generations ago was stirring all France with his socialistic and communistic writings, and who contributed much toward inciting the revolution of 1818, of which he was afterwards the historian; Etienne Cabet, contemporary and co worker of Proudhon in behalf of the poor and oppressed of France; agitator, essayist, historian, scientist, and finally, exile from his native country — was founder of the community which after an existence of almost half a century came to an end Saturday. In its palmy days, twenty years ago, American students of sociology used to come many of hundreds of miles to study the workings of what was said to be the most successful communistic community in the world.

Cabet tried to found his first experimental colony in France, but the government of Louis Phillipe was bitterly opposed to such experiments and its opposition forced the Icarians, as the adherents of the new communistic doctrines were called, to go to the new world. The movement had become almost a national one in France; Cabet’s Icaria, and Proudhon‘s “Bank of the People,” had set all France by the ears, and the established order of things was in serious danger of being overturned. Driven from the own country for their first experiment in communism, the Icarians went first to Texas, where they were offered as area as large as a good sized French department, for their experiment. Their emissaries after looking over the country decided against it, and went to New Orleans. Here they were joined by others and at last, when the Mormons left their seat at Nauvoo, Ill., the Icarians, who had brought considerable money, bought the old Mormon holdings in Illinois, and secured from the legislature of Illinois a charter granting them certain special privileges and immunities. About 2,000 French enthusiasts joined them here, Cabet at their head. He was practically dictator to the community; for years no question was raised as to his absolute authority in all things relating to the conduct of the community, and so long as he was left in charge all went well. The community grew and prospered and there was peace and plenty.

But the country round about settled up by people who saw no charm in the communistic idea; shrewd Yankees, who, instead of believing that the community ought to own everything, considered themselves called to secure individual control of the largest possible part of the community, pressed about the little settlement of communists. The new generation of Icarians was, brought up constantly confronted by the striking contrasts between their own simple, plain, frugal living and the comparative luxury and independence of the better classes of people around them. Of course they always make the comparison with the more well-to do of their neighbors; human nature could not have been expected to be more discriminating; and their conclusions were too often to the disadvantage of their own style of living. Dissensions arose, Cabet had given up his dictatorial powers, and granted a charter under which the community by ballot chose annually a sort of directorate. After experience with this plan he found it a failure; individualism was everywhere creeping in. He demanded that the elected directorate be abolished, and that he be vested with power to appoint directors. But he was defeated; the rising tide of individualistic ideas beat ever harder and more fiercely upon the little islet of communism; every year the instinct of human selfishness more and more overcame the sentiment of devotion to pure principle that had characterized the patriarchs of Icarianism. At last a schism came; Cabet and his minority of followers withdrew and established another colony at Sheltenham, Mo., a few miles from St. Louis. It lasted only a few years and dissolved.

Two or three years before this schism, Cabet, realizing that his social order could never be maintained in the midst of a great community inspired only by what he considered the selfishness of individualism, had concluded that he must transplant his communistic seed to some new region far beyond the frontiers of civilization; and fondly believing that civilization would not penetrate far beyond the Mississippi for generations to come, he sent agents out to western Iowa to seek a location. They came to Adams county and found the ideal tract of 4,000 acres of rich land, in a county almost utterly uninhabited. Cabet came out, examined the prospect, and ordered the land preempted and purchased. This was in 1853. The first case on the court docket of Adams county is a record of certain matters concerning the Icarian community, made in 1853. The new community grew fast, and prospered; after the division of the Nauvoo community it grew still more rapidly. But the troubles of the Nauvoo society involved the Iowa branch; a mortgage was given on the entire 4,000 acres in Adams county, to William Shepherd of St. Louis. In time this was foreclosed. Shepherd was friendly to the colonists, and suffered them to occupy his lands; and in 1859 an arrangement was made whereby the community bought back 2,000 acres from him. Before doing this, there had been a strong movement in favor of removal to California. The wise old men of the colony viewed with despair the advance of American civilization, with its distracting individualistic notions, and foresaw that the experience of Nauvoo would be repeated. They wanted to move to the heart of the unknown west, as the Mormons had done; but already the younger element was in control. By a majority of one vote in the great council of the colony the proposition to remove to California was rejected. The community enjoyed several years of comparative prosperity and growth after this decision. The people were devoted to agriculture. They introduced the French methods of grape culture, and the wonderful success in grape growing in southwest Iowa to this day is traced in large part to their influence. They lived in true communistic style. Like the Spartans of old, they dined from a common table; the community was charged with the general responsibility for education and raising of children; all property was owned by the community and partitioned in accordance with the requirements of the individuals, the community always reserving a store for the common safety. At this period of its history the colony seemed destined to success; indeed, it may be fairly said that it was a success; if not in a material way, at least in the respect of promoting the happiness of its people, safeguarding them against poverty, assuring the young fair education, and removing much of the temptation to selfishness and injustice. “Do unto others as ye would that others should do unto you.” the golden rule was the fundamental of Etienne Cabet’s theory of life, and it was applied so far as possible in the rule of the community.

But once more the delicate plant that must draw its nourishment from such intangible sources as a belief in the abstraction of human equality,; or a deep seated conviction that one’s neighbor is as good as one’s self; found its roots crowded and starved in the soil of selfishness and ambition and individualism. The younger Icarians looked around them, and saw that while they had but an indefinite and indivisible stake in their community, there were men among their neighbors who, with seemingly less work and toil and effort than they were required to put forth, in a few years came to own lands as extensive as all the estate of Icaria. They longed for the freedom of competition and individual effort and individual merit. Each was jealous of the other, for each felt that he was contributing a larger share of labor than was compensated by the proportion of the whole product which came to him. And so, in 1886, there was another division; the lands were divided and the community partitioned off. After this there was the Old Icarian community and the New Icarian community. The members of the New community had desired to admit all who might apply, to the advantages of membership in the community. Failing to carry their point, they brought action at law to annul the charter which the legislature had granted the community. In this they succeeded; their success led to the schism. The New community did not incorporate, for the experience with charters had not been satisfactory. After a year or two the Old community disbanded and divided its property among its surviving members. The New Icaria flourished a number of years yet, but it could not withstand the disintegrating influences from without. Troubles arose, disagreements that could not be settled. The younger and more capable members withdrew, and at last, on February 16, 1895, application was made for the appointment of a receiver, Eugene F. Bettannier was named, and to him was turned over about 1,000 acres of land and other property aggregating about $36,000 in value. Since that time he has disposed of the property, divided the proceeds in accordance with orders of the court, and finally, a month ago, filed his statement showing the disposition of everything. Mr. Bettannier was himself a member of the community. Still a comparatively young man, he remembers seeing Etienne Cabet and still regards him with a sentiment of reverence and affection. “It was not a failure,” declares Mr. Bettannier; “it is right in principle, and it will one day be recognized as the only right social order.”

Adams County Free Press (Corning, Iowa) Oct 27, 1898

Image from the French Icarian Colony Foundation website

THE LAST OF ICARIA.

On another page will be found a brief historical sketch of the famed Icarian community of Adams county, which, after an existence of almost half a century, had finally had its affairs wound up by the courts. Last Saturday Judge Towner issued an order for the discharge of Receiver Bettannier, and the organization of the communistic society as no more. Probably the Icarian community has attracted more attention in this part of Iowa than any other one thing. Students have come from distant parts of the world to see the communistic idea in practical application. They have reached widely divergent conclusions as to its practicality, but the end seems to justify the conclusion that communism cannot compete with individualism. The experience of the communists proved that individual effort and ambition were diminished under their system; everybody’s business was nobody’s business, and there was too much disposition to rely on the community as a whole for the discharge of responsibilities that under a different order would have been duties of the individual. So long as the communistic society could be isolated from individualistic society it flourished and attained a reasonable measure of success; but surrounded by and in competition with vigorous, aggressive, pushing devotees of individualism, it lacked the element of personal enthusiasm without which success was impossible.

While the lesson seems to teach the impracticality of the communistic tenure of property, yet it must be remembered that a little company of at most a few hundreds souls, devoted to the single occupation of agriculture, without diversity of interests and produced means, and surrounded on every side by the institutions of an older, established, and organized society entirely different in its scheme, could not but make a poor showing. Let us assume that the world was organized on a communistic basis, and that a little company of individualists should make the effort to establish themselves and their peculiar notions in the midst of the older society — would not the result be the same?

Despite all insistence to the contrary, the thought of the world trends today toward communistic things. The trust, by which competing concerns in a given line seek to eliminate competition; the great corporate organization, by which the available capital of the many is gathered into great amounts for the purposes of handling great enterprises; the tendency toward public control of natural monopolies — all these things obviously lead toward the socialistic consummation. glasgow, owning its own water works, gas works, street railways, public baths, public lodging houses, public laundries, public eating establishments and scores of like institutions, conducted for the benefit of the public and not for the profit; is the most striking example of the communistic tendency of the day. In America the movement toward municipal ownership of public utilities; the universally accepted principle of society’s right to control the transportation facilities, fix their rates, and regulate their methods of operation; the public control of the mails, and many other fixed theories of society, are evidences of the same communistic tendency. True, all this is a long way from the communism of Bellamy or Cabet; it may be sneered at and called “anarchy,” or “socialism,” or “nonsense,” by the unthinking; but the fact remains that the ever sharper competition, the ever decreasing share of product which is allotted to the hand and brain that actually earn the living of society — all these things are surely prodding society in the direction of a reversal of the fixed order of things. It may never reach us; but none the less, society is now moving in that direction.

Adams County Free Press (Corning, Iowa) Oct 27, 1898

Lake Park News (Lake Park, Iowa) Jan 31, 1957

MANY UNIQUE IOWA COMMUNITIES

Touches of romance have been given to the history of Iowa by the story of various little groups of idealists who from time to time found asylum within the borders of the State. Especially is this true of the people called the Icarians, who in the early fifties established a colony near Corning in Adams County. These people believed in and practiced communism — all property was held in common — and they were inspired by the ideal of restoring the principles of primitive Christianity. Persecuted in France, under the direction of their leader, Etienne Cabet they crossed the sea and settled in the wilds of Texas. But being an industrial people they found it too difficult to maintain existence so far from civilization, and so they journeyed up the Mississippi and took up the land and quarters at Nauvoo which had recently been deserted by the Mormons. Then about 1853 the colony in Iowas was established, and still later California became the home of the rapidly dwindling numbers of those who still held to the ideals of the founders.

In the April number of “The Iowa Journal of History and Politics” published by the State Historical Society, there is a translation of a history of the Icarian Community, written by Cabet himself about 1855.

The basic principles of the Community, according to the founder were “Brotherhood, Equality, Solidarity, the suppression of poverty and individual property, in a word Communism.”

The Iowa City Citizen (Iowa City, Iowa) May 2, 1917

Janesville Morning Gazette (Janesville, Wisconsin) Mar 17, 1857

Two and a half miles east of Corning, Iowa, is the Icarian community, with A.A. Marchand, an intelligent Frenchman, at its head. In this community are 75 person, living in 20 or 25 houses, and using a common dining hall 24×60 feet. The community own about 2,000 acres of land, with 600 acres under improvement. A fair share is good timberland. A steam grist mill and saw mill are on their lands, together with several barns.

The Perry Chief (Perry, Iowa) Jul 17, 1875

Will Divide the Property.

Corning. Feb 23. — Members of the Icarian Community founded in France before the revolution, coming to this country and living at various points in the south and at Nauvoo, Ill., finally settling here in 1856, have agreed to a division of the property and the dissolution of the society. The interests of the heirs and other legal obstacles have rendered it advisable to appoint a receiver to put the matter in the hands of the court.

The Perry Daily Chief (Perry, Iowa) Feb 24, 1895

DEATH OF A.A. MARCHAND.

Former President of the Icarian Community Passes Away in Georgia.

In Columbus, Ga., May 4, A.A. Marchand, one of the founders of the new extinct Icarian Community, was found dead in his bed, at the home of his daughter Mrs. William Ross, with whom he had lived since leaving Corning three years ago. the supposition is he died of heart disease, as he had not been sick and was apparently in fair health. Mr. Marchand had led an eventful life and died at the ripe age of 81 years. He was born in Rene, Bretagne, France.

In 1818 he became an enthusiastic follower of Etienne Cabet, the communist, who led a colony of some 5000 French to Texas where they purchased a tract in the Red river country. Misfortunes and disease overtook them and one half the colony died of yellow fever. A large number drifted back to France. A smaller number, Mr. Marchand among them, journeyed to Nauvoo, Ill., where they purchased the old mormon town site and farming lands, then being abandoned by the mormons in their exodus to Salt Lake. This colony flourished a few years, then succumbed. More than 100 of the colonists journeyed to Adams county where they purchased 20,000 acres of land about 1854. The colony thrived for many years. Then came dark days and disruption, the formation of a new colony which lived until 1895 when it was dissolved by petition to the court and a receiver appointed. The mother colony had expired several years before. Mr. Marchand was several years president of the colony. He was a man of rare refinement and education, and taught the Icarian children for many years.

Adams County Free Press (Corning, Iowa) May 12, 1898

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