Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

VII. French Societies

597. Various Societies after the Restoration.—One would think that, according to the "philosophical" historians, no nation ought to have been more content and happy, after being delivered from their tyrant Napoleon, than the French. But, in accordance with what I said in sect. 519, no nation had more reason to be dissatisfied and unhappy through the restoration of a king "by grace of God" and "right divine." Draconian statutes were promulgated by the Chambers, the mere tools of Louis XVIII., which led to the formation of a secret society called the "Associated Patriots," whose chief scenes of operation were in the south of France. But Government had its spies everywhere; many members of the society were arrested and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Three leaders, Pleignier, a writing-master, Carbonneau, a leather-cutter, and Tolleron, an engraver, were sentenced to death, led to the place of execution with their faces concealed by black veils, as parricides were formerly executed, and before their heads were cut off, their right hands were severed from their arms for had they not raised them against their father, the king?

The conspiracy of the Associated Patriots collapsed. But other societies arose. In 1820 the society of the "Friends of Truth," consisting of medical students and shopmen, was established in Paris, but was soon suppressed by the Government. The leading members made their escape to Italy, and on their return to France founded a Carbonaro society, the leadership of which was given to General Lafayette. It made two attempts to overthrow the Government, one at Belfort, and another at La Rochelle, but both were unsuccessful, and the Carbonaro society was dissolved. The society of the "Shirtless," founded by a Frenchman of the name of Manuel, who invoked Sampson, as the symbol of strength, had but a very short existence. That of the "Spectres meeting in a Tomb," which existed in 1822, and whose object was the overthrow of the Bourbons, also came to a speedy end. The "New Reform of France," and the "Provinces," which were probably founded in 1820, only admitted members already initiated into Carbonarism, Freemasonry, the European Patriots, or the Greeks in Solitude. A mixture of many sects, they condensed the hatred of many ages and many orders against tyranny, and prescribed the following oath:

"I. M. N., promise and swear to be the eternal enemy of tyrants, to entertain undying hatred against them, and, when opportunity offers, to slay them." In their succinct catechism were the following passages: "Who art thou?" "Thy friend." "How knowest thou me?" "By the weight pressing on thy brow, on which I read written in letters of blood, To conquer or die." "What wilt thou?" "Destroy the thrones and raise up gibbets." "By what right?" "By that of nature." "For what purpose?" "To acquire the glorious name of citizen." "And wilt thou risk thy life?" "I value life less than liberty."

Another sect was that of the "New French Liberals," which existed but a short time. It was composed of but few members; they, however, were men of some standing, chiefly such as had occupied high positions under Napoleon. They looked to America for assistance. They wore a small black ribbon attached to their watches, with a gold seal, a piece of coral, and an iron or steel ring. The ribbon symbolised the eternal hatred of the free for oppressors; the coral, their American hopes; the ring, the weapon to destroy their enemies: and the gold seal, abundance of money as a means of success.

After the July revolution in 1830, the students of the Quartier Latin formed the society of "Order and Progress," each student being, in furtherance of these objects, provided with a rifle and fifty cartridges. And if they nevertheless did not distinguish themselves, they afforded the Parisians a new sensation. About three o'clock on the afternoon of the 4th January 1831, the booming of the great bell of Notre Dame was heard, and one of the towers of the cathedral was seen to be on fire. The police, who, though forewarned of the intended attempt, had taken no precautionary measures, speedily made their way into the building, put out the fire, and arrested six individuals, young men, nineteen or twenty years old, and their leader, a M. Considere. The young men were acquitted, Cousidcre was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. And thus ended this farcical insurrection.

Another association, called the "Society of Schools," advocated the abolition of the universities and the throwing open of all instruction to the public gratuitously. The "Constitutional Society," directed by a man who had powerfully supported the candidature of the Duke of Orleans, Cauchois-Lemaire, insisted on the suppression of monopolies, the more equal levy of taxes, electoral reform, and the abolition of the dignity of the peerage. The "Friends of the People" was another political society, one section of which, called the "Rights of Man," adopted for its text-book the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" by Robespierre, and drew to itself many minor societies, too numerous, and in most cases too unimportant, to be mentioned. Their efforts ended in the useless insurrection of Lyons on the 13th and 14th April 1834.

598. The Acting Company.—But a separate corps of the Rights of Man, selected from among all the members, was formed and called the Acting Company, under the command of Captain Kersausie, a rich nobleman with democratic predilections. On certain days the loungers on the boulevards would notice a crowd of silent promenaders whom an unknown object seemed to draw together. No one understood the matter except the police; the chief of the Acting Company was reviewing his forces. Accompanied by one or two adjutants he would accost the chief of a group, whom he recognised by a sign, hold a short conversation with him, and pass on to another; the police agents would follow, see him enter a carriage, which was kept in waiting, drive up to a house which had a back way out, whence he would gain one of his own for he had several residences, and keep indoors for three or four days.

The Rights of Man society arranged the plot, proposed by Fieschi, to assassinate the king, Louis Philippe, on the 28th July 1835. Delahodde, the police spy, in his Memoirs, says that by the imprudence of one of the conspirators, Boireau, the police obtained a hint of what was intended, but that it was so vague, that it could not be acted on. This is evidently said to screen the police, for on the trial of Fieschi and the other conspirators, it was proved that on the morning of the attempt Boireau had sent a letter doing which was not a mere imprudence to the Prefect of Police, giving full information as to the means to be employed, the individuals engaged in the plot, and the very house in which the infernal machine was placed all which was more than a mere hint but the letter was thrown aside by the Prefect as not worth reading!

The failure of the attempt broke up the society of the Rights of Man, but the remnants thereof formed themselves in the same year into a new society, called the "Families," under the leadership of Blanqui and Barbes. Admission to this new society was attended with all the mummery and mystification considered necessary to form an orthodox initiation. Its object, of course, was the overthrow of the monarchical government and the establishment of a republic; but the society having in 1836 been discovered and suppressed, many of its leaders being sent to prisons, the members who remained at liberty reconstituted themselves into a new society, called the "Seasons," into the meeting-place of which the candidate was led blindfolded, and swore death to all kings, aristocrats, and other oppressors of mankind, and to sacrifice his own life, if needful, in the cause. On the 12th May the "Seasons," led by Blanqui and Barbes, rose in insurrection, but were defeated by the Government. Blanqui was sentenced to be transported, and Barbes condemned to death; the king, however, commuted the sentence of the latter to imprisonment.

After a time the "Seasons" were reorganised, and about 1840, Communism first began to be active in Paris, and various attempts were made against the king's life. Considering the number of police spies in the pay of Government, it is surprising that secret societies should have continued to flourish, and should at last have succeeded in overthrowing the throne of Louis Philippe. The spies would get themselves introduced into the secret societies, and then betray them. One of the most notorious of these spies was Lucien Delahodde, who sent his reports to Government under the pseudonym of "Pierre." When, in consequence of the revolution of 1848, "Citizen" Caussidiere became Prefect of Police, and overhauled the secret archives of that department, he found voluminous papers, containing more than a thousand informations, signed "Pierre," proving that the writer had got hold of all the secrets of the "Rights of Man," the "Families" (though strong suspicion rests on Blanqui of having supplied the Minister of the Interior with a secret report on the latter, when under sentence of death), the "Seasons," and sold them to the Government. But who was this Pierre? Unluckily for himself Lucien Delahodde, or Pierre himself, wrote a letter to Caussidiere, asking to be employed in the police. Caussidiere was struck by the writing, compared it with that of the secret reports, and found it to be identical. Delahodde was invited to meet Caussidiere at the Luxembourg, where he was made to confess, and declare in writing, that he was the author of all the reports signed "Pierre." Some members of the provisional government were for shooting him, but he got off with a few months' imprisonment in the Conciergerie. On recovering his liberty Delahodde went to London, where he published a small journal, attacking the Republic and the Republicans.

599. The Communistic societies of the Travailleurs Egalitaires and Communistes Recolutionnaires.—introduced some of their members into the provisional government that preceded the accession of Louis Napoleon; and their influence even to the present day is too notorious to need specification here. The "Mountaineers," or "Reds of the Mountain," a revival of the name given during the French Revolution to the leaders of the Jacobins, was one of the societies that brought about the events of 1848. According to the Univers of the 2nd February 1852, they swore on a dagger, "I swear by this steel, the symbol of honour, to combat and destroy all political, religious, and social tyrannies," continued to play at hide-and-seek after the accession of Louis Napoleon, but were not immediately put down, though he issued the most severe prohibitions against them, and the members who could be apprehended were condemned to transportation to Cayenne or Algiers; they continued to exist for some years after the coup d'e'tat.

600. Causes of Secret Societies in France.—The succession of secret associations against the government of Louis Philippe is not to be wondered at. The king himself was solely bent on the aggrandisement of his own dynasty, either by foreign marriages, or conferring on the members of his own family every office in the state which could secure the paramount power in directing the destinies of France. The princes had re-established the orgies of the Regency; the court, the ministers, the aristocrats, the inferior functionaries made the public offices and national institutions the objects of shameful corruption; the deputies speculated with their political functions; peers of France patronised gambling in the funds and railway scrip; princes, ministers, ambassadors, and other personages in high positions were constantly making their appearance in the assize courts and found guilty of swindling, forgery, rape, and murder; commercial and manufacturing interests were fearfully depressed, hence the frequent risings of the working classes; hence secret associations to put an end to this rotten condition of society.