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Carbonari Society

Carbonari (Ital. carbonajo, a charcoal burner), a secret political society, which became notorious in Italy and France about 1818, though it had existed for a number of years before. The similarity between the secret society of the Carbonari and Freemasonry is evident. Freemasons could enter the Carbonari as masters at once. The openly-avowed aim of the Carbonari was political: they sought to bring about a constitutional monarchy or a republic, and to defend the rights of the people against all forms of absolutism. They did not hesitate to compass their ends by assassination and armed revolt. As early as the first years of the nineteenth century the society was widespread in Neapolitan territory, especially in the Abruzzi and Calabria. Not only men of low birth, but also government officials of high rank, officers, and even members of the clergy belonged to it.

In Italy the Freemasons trace their origin up to the commencement of the sixteenth century. Lodges existed in Venice under the Republic, and in Rome there are seals proving that under the Bourbons and the Popes the brethren held their meetings in Naples and in Rome. The rulers of Italy, however, treated them with much severity. The first Napoleon was a great patron and protector of the Society ; and during the Napoleonic era the Lodges sprung up rapidly everywhere. Joseph Napoleon was Grand Master; Beauharnais, when he came to Milan, was named Grand Master and Commander-in-Chief of the Supreme Council of the thirty-third grade.

With the fall of Napoleon the Freemasons were persecuted even more fiercely than of old ; the rulers of Italy enacted laws against them ; the Popes excommunicated them; an individual suspected of being a Freemason was condemned to ten years of the galleys. The Lodges were of course dissolved, and gradually the Carbonari Society absorbed the the old members, who were called Cousins instead of Brothers. About 1810, when the Neapolitan republicans, aliko opposed to the usurpation of Murat and the rule of Ferdinand, took refuge in the Abruzzi mountains, they organized, under the leadership of Capobianco, a carbonari society, adopting charcoal as a symbol of purification, with the motto "Revenge upon the wolves who devour the lambs."

Queen Caroline of Naples and the Sardinian minister Magholla are mentioned, in addition to Capobianco, as the prime movers of the Abruzzi league of carbonari. In 1814 the little Neapolitan town of Lanciano, in the province of Abruzzo Citeriore, numbered as many as 2,000 carbonari, and all over the Abruzzi new societies were formed, whose political influence became so marked that Prince Moliterni was despatched to them by Fordinand with a view of securing their cooperation against the French.

But the carbonari, although their unwillingness to bear any foreign yoke had originally given rise to their association, leaned more and more toward republicanism; and, especially when the expelled dynasty was reinstated upon the throne of Naples, they assumed an attitude of uncompromising hostility against monarchy. From 30,000 members, the number of carbonari all over Italy had been swelled in one month (March, 1820) to the enormous figure of nearly 700,000, including many persons of education and good family.

The place where the carbonari assembled was called the baracca, or collier's hut; the surrounding country was designated a forest; the interior of the baracca was called the vendita, from the sale of coals which the colliers are supposed to carry on in their huts. Each province contained a large number of such baracche or huts, and the union of the different provincial huts constituted "a republic." The leading huts were called alte vendite, and had their headquarters at Naples and Salerno.

The growing influence of the order alarmed the conservative governments of Europe, especially the Bourbons, as, since 1819, the carbonari had allied themselves with French republicans. The trial of the Corsican Guerini, who, in accordance with the decree of the alta vendita, had stabbed a fellow member for having betrayed the secrets of the society, added to the excitement.

Previous to 1819, the carbonari societies in France took their rise principally from the charbonneries, which flourished especially in Franche-Comte. But the movements of the Italian carbonari, especially the insurrections of 1820 and 1821 in Naples and Sardinia, gave afresh impulse to the French fraternity, and under the auspices of Buchez and Flottard a new movement was set on foot in Paris. Men like Voyer d'Argenson, Lafayette, Laffitte, Dupont de l'Eure, Buonarotti, Barthe, Teste, Boinvilliers, and other republicans of mark, joined the movement, which adopted the ritual of the Abruzzi carbonari, with the sole modification, that while the Neapolitans had only the one superior division of alto vendita, the French carbonari classed themselves in four ventes, viz.: ventes particulieres, ventes centrales, Jiautes ventes, and ventes supreme*. The admission to the ventes was also surrounded with greater formalities in France, although after admission the principle of equality prevailed, and, like the Italians, the French carbonari greeted each other as bons cousin*. The statutes of the French carbonari were most stringent.

The faintest whisper of the secrets of the society to outsiders constituted treason, and was punishable with death. No written communications wore permitted. In 1819 there were about 20,000 carbonari in Paris. From September, 1820, to March 16, 1821, a separate committee sat in Paris on military affairs, as the army contained a large number of carbonari. In 1821 the government was officially informed that the society existed in 25 out of the 86 departments of France. The eongr&s national of the carbonari, which had its headquarters at Paris, seemed for a time omnipotent. All the insurrectionary movements from 1819 to 1822 were attributed to them. One of the cardinal points in the creed of the French carbonari was to make Paris the political focus of the world. After the July revolution of 1830, many carbonari gave in their allegiance to Louis Philippe; but at that time a new charbonnerie democratique was founded by Buonarotti npon the theories of Babenf, which Teste, who was a prominent member, expounded in his Projet d'une constitution ripulilieaine.

The early revolutions of the 19th century were directed by the Carbonari. In Naples alone they numbered 652,000, and 200,000 in Sicily. In Piedmont all the Liberals were Carbonari. The cry was the Constitution, and Constitutions were granted in Naples and in Piedmont. Charles Albert was a Carbonari when Prince of Carignano. But when the new Constitutions and their partizans were overthrown, the members dispersed, the society naturally lost its vigor, and the young initiators of the new era found it inadequate to their wants. Mazzini, a Freemason, was also a Carbonari, but he substituted the Young Italy party for both.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:52:29 ZULU