Militant Masonry: Amis de la Vérité, Buonarroti Masters and French Carbonari
By Terry Melanson (February 18, 2013)
Amongst the source material utilized during the writing of Perfectibilists, was a 1956 International Review of Social History article by Arthur Lehning: “Buonarroti and His International Secret Societies.”
I became fascinated with the so-called “first professional revolutionist,” especially the evidence of his indebtedness to the stratagems of the Bavarian Illuminati (directly or otherwise).
In the midst of Lehning’s thorough outline of the central role Buonarroti played in various secret societies during the period, a short passage caught my attention involving a clandestine nexus of French Carbonarists, Joseph Rey’s ‘L’Union,’ and a particularly revolutionary Masonic Lodge of the Grand Orient: the ‘Amis de la Vérité’ [Friends of Truth]:
In 1821 the secret leadership of the anti-Bourbon opposition went over to the “Charbonnerie française”. Bazard, the later Saint-Simonist, formed in 1818 the “Loge des amis de la vérité” with its military “Compagnie franche des écoles”. Behind the “Loge” stood the secret “Union” of Rey, and it was Victor Cousin (of the “Union”) who, in fact, took the initiative. Involved in the military conspiracy of 19th August 1820, two of its members, Joubert and Dugied, having fled to Italy, brought back from Naples the statutes of the Neopolitan “carbonari”. They form 1st May 1821 the first “Haute Vente” of the “Charbonnerie française” of which soon the leading personalities of the parliamentarian opposition such as Lafayette, De Corcelle, Koechlin, Manuel – all deputies – and also Cabet and De Schonen, became members (127).
The name of the lodge was no doubt chosen as an homage to the paramasonic revolutionary club ‘Cercle Social,’ or ‘Confédération Universelle Des Amis de la Vérité’ [Universal Confederation of the Friends of Truth]. Co-founded by masons Nicolas de Bonneville (1760-1828) and Claude Fauchet (1744-1793) in Paris, 1790, this “société fraternelle” had its own printing house that published a short-lived yet influential journal called La Bouche de Fer [The Mouth of Iron], where the tradition of revolutionary-as-journalist-agitator originated. James H. Billington characterized the Cercle Social as “nothing less than the prototype of a modern revolutionary movement” (44); while Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in 1844, had opined that “the revolutionary movement… began in 1789 in the Cercle Social [itself].”
The mystic-occult current during the French Revolution, the pervasiveness of mesmerism in particular, has been carefully documented by Robert Darnton. The Cercle Social, Darnton writes, was “an association of mystic revolutionaries who hoped to establish a Universal Confederation of Friends of the Truth with a masonic organization. The ideology of the Cercle Social derived from a strain of occultism expressed most fully by Restif de la Bretonne” (132), dubbed the “Rousseau of the gutter.”
Restif’s “baroque imagination,” elaborates Darnton:
produced a cosmology made up of animal planets that produced life by copulation; Pythagorean sprits that evolved with each incarnation through a hierarchy of stones, plants, animals, and creatures inhabiting countless worlds of countless solar systems; and a pantheistic god who endlessly created universes by a process of crystallization and then destroyed them by absorption in the sun, the brain of the universal “Great Animal.” Restif lubricated this animalistic, sexual cosmos with “intellectual fluid” that, like Mesmer’s fluid, acted as the intermediary between God and man’s internal sense. “God is the material and intellectual brain of the single great animal, of the All, whose intelligence is an actual fluid, like light, but much less dense, as it does not touch any of our external senses and acts only upon the inner sense” (ibid).
Wild stuff, for sure — typical of the illuminist strain of thought (Dom Pernety, Saint-Martin, Mesmer, Cagliostro, Lavater, Swedenborg et al.) during the Enlightenment. Restif was also the first to use the word communist in print in 1785 (Billington 79; Grandjonc 146), submitted an appeal for agrarian communalism to the Estates-General in 1789, and by 1793 “used the term communism as his own for the first time” (Billington 82). Hence, the origins of the modern conceptions of socialism and communism stem from a particular “irrational” undercurrent during the so-called “Age of Reason.”
In the introduction to the invaluable Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, Wouter Hanegraaff observed that during the Enlightenment “the boundaries between reason and its ‘other’ were in fact blurred and shifting, with many important figures finding themselves with one foot in each camp” (x). Bonneville and his Cercle Social was the embodiment of this ostensible contradiction. They preached “communism … [and] demanded the redistribution of property” while at the same time promulgating the virtues of “communication with spirits, fraternal organizations, and grand oratory” (Darnton 134-5). Marx and his materialist acolytes acknowledged the Cercle Social as revolutionary progenitors but had obviously overlooked the fact that La Bouche de Fer subscribers “read about the animal planets, the transmigration of souls, the primitive religion and language, and, also, universal harmony” (133).
…center for political discussion and recruitment under the cover of freemasonry by young Parisian radicals – notably Bazard, Buchez, Joubert, and Flotard. It was chartered in good faith by the Grand Orient, which uneasily watched it expand into a body of several hundred members that maintained only the slackest connection with masonic observances. There is no doubt that the dominant elements in the lodge were using masonry as a front for their political operations, but the nature of the rank and file’s political commitment is less clear. Probably they were all hostile to the regime but not all of them were prepared to translate political attitudes into subversive action. The lodge was not a unit of the carbonarist organization but a vehicle for the recruitment and indoctrination of potential Carbonari. [Emphasis added] (Spitzer 219)
James H. Billington wrote of them as well, though he neglected to emphasize the lodge’s original French name. On the Amis de la Vérité [Friends of Truth], he writes:
Union soon established links with the respectable revolutionaries who provided the backbone of what was soon to be called the French Carbonari: Lafayette, Voyer d’Argenson, Dupont de l’Eure, and Victor Cousin. At the same time the swelling postwar student population in Paris began independently to use Masonic lodges for republican agitation. An organization, formed soon after September 1818 under the Illuminist name Friends of Truth, became a center for student radicals and gained more than one thousand members.
[….] Using Masonic organizations for revolutionary mobilization through the Friends of Truth, the students converted the journal The French Aristarchus into a legal outlet for revolutionary ideas in 1819. The same group attempted to organize a revolutionary “directorial committee” and a classical conspiratorial web of five-man cells (“brigades”). Little direction was given, and these brigades often resorted to uncoordinated violence; but they represented the first large scale deployment in France outside of military organizations of this cellular type. (Billington 136)
Joseph Rey’s influence in perspective
The Bibliothèque de Grenoble has preserved his voluminous correspondences with the likes of Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836), Jean Denis, comte Lanjuinais (1753-1827), and Victor Cousin (1792-1867), as well as the following (among others):
Between the years 1821 to 1825: Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), Filippo Buonarroti (1761-1837), Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin (1796-1864), Benjamin Constant (1767-1830), Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881), Auguste Comte (1798-1857), Grenier, Auguste Viguier
Saint-Simonians, 1831 to 1836: Michel Chevalier (1806-1879), Charles-Antoine Duguet, Henri Fournel (1799-1876), Charles Lemonnier (1806-1891), Pierre Hawke (1801-1887), René Holstein
Communists, 1842 to 1847: Étienne Cabet (1788-1856), John Minter Morgan (1782-1854), T. W. Thornton, and the editors of “La Fraternité.”
— Dumolard, Henry, “Joseph Rey de Grenoble (1779-1855) et ses ‘memoires politiques,'” Annales de l’université de Grenoble, IV, n.1, 1927, p. 72
Joseph Rey de Grenoble (1779-1855) first formed his secret society, “l’Union,” in February 1816. Rey’s inspiration, he recalls, occurred while reading about the Prussian decrees against secret societies and the Tugendbund (Union of Virtue) in particular. Two friends were enlisted, Simon Triolle and Champollion le Jeune (the future famous Egyptologist), and the first assembly of the secret society occurred in Grenoble, 28 February 1816. Its statutes were preceded by an explicit preamble: “The agents of tyranny are everywhere and for some time have been working to obtain their ends; the friends of liberty, that is to say the free exercise of all rights, which is the fulfillment of eternal justice, have in turn organized to regain these rights” (Dumolard 78). A few days after, Rey left for Germany and managed to recruit Charles Teste (1783-1848), who would soon become an important disciple of Buonarroti. Reaching France in 1817, and having set up cells of the organization in Paris and throughout the country, by 1820 members of Rey’s Union included the likes of professor Victor Cousin (later Carbonarist), “hero of two worlds” Marquis de Lafayette (whom Rey had worshipped), Voyer d’Argenson (a future Buonarroti conspirator), Jacques Charles Dupont de l’Eure (a witness and actor in the revolutions of 1789, 1830, and 1848), banker Jacques Laffite, influential members of the liberal press and magistrates, students and young professionals in the radical lodges (Weill 297-8; Boisson; Spitzer 215-16; Blanchet).
The Amis de la Vérité, wrote professor André Combes, “inaugurated a tradition: a lodge whose purpose was ultimately revolutionary” (Combes 136; Girollet 21). According to one of the founders—Jacques-Thomas Flotard (1797-1872)—they formed in September 1818.
Flotard, Saint-Amand Bazard (1791-1832), Philippe Buchez (1795-1865) and Nicolas Joubert (d. 1866) were, at the time, students and municipal clerks in Paris who had refused to give “consent to the beatitudes of restoration.” Three were Masons of good standing already, wrote Flotard: “that is to say they had received the light amid the silly sacraments prescribed by the Grand Orient; with less ceremony, the fourth was initiated.” In the beginning, at least, they tried their best to appear as “zealous propagators of the true light” and “scrupulous observers of the Scottish Rite.” This got them official recognition and a charter from the Grand Orient. Within a month they had thirty members and over a thousand at the end of the year, mostly students and young professionals (Paris révolutionnaire 197-200).
In short time, however:
Obsolete customs and long-insignificant ordeals of mystical morality were substituted with observations and discussions illuminating the rights and civic duties of each neophyte.
Its meetings often resembled, perhaps unique in France at that time, a gathering where the boldest philosophical and political questions were treated with an independent, audacious spirit (ibid. 200).
“One might say,” writes Spitzer, “that the membership had been successfully indoctrinated and shaped for the direct action it would undertake in the conspiracies of 1820-1822” (222).
Other lodges at the time soon attracted the attention of the authorities as well. Les Amis de l’Armorique, Saint-Louis de France, Les Trinosophes and Les Sectateurs de Zoroastre (Girollet 20) were openly hostile toward the Bourbons. The Amis de l’Armorique [Friends of Armorica], in particular, was directly allied with the Amis de la Vérité, both lodges being comprised of young men of the same age and political persuasion. The Amis de l’Armorique, Spitzer recounts, “enlisted en masse in the conspiracy hatched in the Amis de la Vérité. It is unlikely that the two radical lodges had a monopoly over the Parisian youth but they were undoubtedly the largest and strongest organizations which were put in touch with the committee of notables to form a revolutionary coalition. This coalition, or some faction of it, had a hand in organizing the plot of August 19, 1820” (Spitzer 224).
The attempted coup is known in history as the 1820 “August Plot” or the “conspiracy of the French Bazar”; in French, usually “complot du Bazar français” or “complot du 19 août 1820.” Flotard’s first-hand account of it can be read in Paris révolutionnaire (Paris 1848): “Une nuit d’étudiant sous la Restauration (du 19 au 20 Août 1820).” It’s covered extensively in Spitzer’s Old Hatreds and Young Hopes: The French Carbonari against the Bourbon Restoration, pp. 39-50, 225-229.
The conspiracy was quite elaborate and involved notable intermediaries—Joseph Rey, Jacques Koechlin, Voyer d’Argenson, Victor Cousin and Lafayette—with connections to students and disaffected military veterans.
The effective leaders of the actual attempt to seize power in the summer of 1820 are identified as Rey himself; Jean-Baptiste Dumoulin, the notorious bonapartist from Grenoble; and Captain Nantil of the Meurthe legion, then stationed at Paris. Through Rey they were in touch with the student organizations; through Dumoulin and Nantil, with the elements that operated out of the Bazar Français; and through Nantil, with the corruptible garrisons in Paris and the East.
[…] The military putsch at Paris was to enjoy the immediate support of the radical youth mobilized as an armed band … According to Flotard they were organized into a Compagnie Franche des Écoles, which became the agency for mobilizing the student sympathizers when the moment came. This moment was the night of August 19-20, romantically reconstructed by Flotard, when the loyal brothers of the Amis de la Vérité and the Amis de l’Armorique responded en masse to the summons to rally under their leaders. Some six hundred assembled under the command of the eldest, the twenty-six-year-old Bazard, scarcely dreaming then of “his future as a Saint-Simonian pope.” They accepted without question the order “We rise at midnight!” They were armed, organized into squads, counted off as officers and noncoms, and informed that they were to assault Vincennes. They waited calmly or with feigned calm through most of the night for the signal that never came. They would always believe that their plans had been aborted by a failure of nerve at the top. “Nothing had been decided in the council of the leaders; Bazard had not been able to meet with them; they went back on their repeated promises to admit one of our people to this council as soon as action was seriously contemplated.” That last night was the conspirators’ “first Waterloo,” Pance recalls, “and the second for France” (Spitzer 226, 229)
This failed attempt led directly to the formation of a stronger organization: the French Carbonari. Two members of the Amis de la Vérité, Nicolas Joubert and Pierre Dugied (1798-1879), having fled to Italy after the August plot, brought back the statutes (and inner-workings) of the Carbonari and formed their own version of it in France, May 1st, 1821—it’s logistical base being the Amis de la Vérité.
The modus operandi of Adam Weishaupt’s Order was quite well known and studied, particularly at that time. Most influential, above all, was the Illuminati’s incessant effort to infiltrate other organizations, especially Freemasonry, and form a secret society within a secret society.
Buonarroti was unmistakably indebted to this technique and had used it effectively at every turn. At this point it’s worth quoting from my book, Perfectibilists (141-2):
Shortly after the first failed Philadelphian conspiracy against Napoleon in 1808, Buonarroti had founded his most important secret society: the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits (or Sublimi Maestri Perfetti) [Sublime Perfect Masters]. It was a merging of the Philadelphes from France and Switzerland and its Italian branch, the Adelphes, formed around 1807, headed by Buonarroti’s friend Luigi Angeloni (1758-1842). A decree dated July 26, 1812, probably distributed amongst Buonarroti’s most trusted followers, reads: “The associations the Ph[iladelphes] and the A[delphes] are reunited into one Order.” Not content with anti Bonapartist insurrection, the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits “became an international society of European revolutionaries with the purpose to republicanise Europe … to direct, to control and influence other societies for its own political aims … a directing committee for the revolution.”
And it is with the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits that Buonarroti—no question about it—tips his Illuminist hat once again:
Recent research has shown that it was primarily the influence of the Illuminati of Bavaria that led Buonarroti to develop … a secret society based on a “metapolitical” distinction between the “civilian” society and the reforming order in its midst.
In its structure, as well as in its gradualist aim, the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits closely resembled the order founded by Weishaupt in 1776. Its hierarchy, its methods of initiation, its employment of the catechism, all were almost identical with the structure of the Illuminati. Even the name of Buonarroti’s organization evoked Weishaupt’s original name for his order—the Perfettibilisti; its aims suited Weishaupt’s alias—“Spartacus.” The third and most secret credo of the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits—that which referred to “the Republic” as “the sole proprietor” and “to creating a social patrimony aimed at by the philosophers” was called the Areopagus. Among the Illuminati, the “areopagites” were the chosen few who alone knew the real aim of the order, the date of its foundation, and the name of its founder. (Eisenstein 35-6)
The Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits was composed of three grades. The first was called the “Church” (reminiscent of Minerval Churches), and had a “Sage” as its director; the second was the “Synod,” whose members were christened Sublimes Elus [Elected Sublimes] (the Illuminati’s Priest degree initiates conspired together in a “Synod”); and the third and last grade, as we’ve seen, was called the “Areopagus”—all uncannily similar to the structure and makeup of the Bavarian Illuminati. In revolutionary terms, the “church” was a local cell whose “sage” was in contact with a regional “synod”; the synods had a liaison, called a diacre territorial [territorial deacon], in charge of setting up the churches in each region; while the “Areopagites” (also called the “Grand-Firmament”) were represented by a diacre mobile sent out “to control the synods and supervise propaganda and agitation.”
Each level—again like the Illuminati—had its own propaganda, which morphed and became more forthright as one ascended the ladder. The credo of the first grade professed a type of Masonic fraternal-Christianity; the second grade revealed doctrine of true liberty, where “only the people are the rulers … the true Republic … every citizen is entitled to destroy the usurper of supreme power”; and the last credo, that of the Areopagus, can be viewed as the “secret program,” the Buonarroti-Babeuf “Communist Creed of 1796,” almost identical to the Rousseauist-Weishauptian dogma revealed in the highest degrees of the Illuminati.
Buonarroti had utilized the strategy while successfully infiltrating the Italian Carbonari in 1818, and had obviously managed to merge both the Adelphes and the Philadelphes into a single organization. In short time, “the great mass of the different sects,” wrote Buonarroti expert Armando Saitta, “were being secretly manipulated by the followers of Buonarroti in the Perfect Sublime Masters” (qtd. in Mattei 5).
It’s tempting to attribute the incarnation of the French Carbonari as a sign of Buonarroti’s scheme put into force. His Areopagites’ (i.e. the “Grand Firmament’s”) sole purpose was to direct and manage the founding of regional “synods” on a Europe-wide scale. Members of the synods, as mentioned above, were called Sublimes Elus. Significantly, James H. Billington cited from its statutes, found in the Archives Nationales, which recommended that “‘Les Illuminés’ in Germany are one of the five ‘already formed secret societies’ that revolutionaries at this second level are to make use of” (548 n.193).
Consulting an important Buonarroti text published by Armando Saitta (“La Mac :: La Charb :: et le M ::” i.e. “Freemasonry, Carbonari and le Monde”) — concerning revolutionary concealment within Freemasonry — Eisenstein wrote:
[I]n its structure and symbolism, the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits was almost identical with the masonic order and this was a typical and quite deliberate piece of camouflage. Buonarroti had no use for most Free Masons; their organization he regarded with the scorn that a professional reserves for amateurs. “The public character of its meetings, the almost infinite number of its initiates, and the ease with which they are admitted have removed from Masonry every trace of political inclination. And if an exception is made of some very few and almost unknown lodges in which the light is preserved in its purity, all the others are nothing more than entertainment centers or schools of superstition and slavery.”
But in the mystery of the Masonic order, the quasi-republican form of its deliberations, the very obscurity of its language, he saw opportunities for exploitation by those who needed a “cover” for “broader ideas” and for plans that were “no less favourable to humanity than they feared by those who oppress it.” Thus, even as it had been with the Illuminati after 1782, the infiltration of the masonic order became one of the objects of the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits. Every candidate for the supreme command had to go through the masonic hierarchy and acquire a key position in a lodge in the country where he was a resident (Eisenstein 44-5; emphasis in original).
A further passage not printed in Eisenstein, reads: “The exercise of masonry is not for us a duty; but we are always initiated in its mysteries and it is up to us to use this institution or to use it as a refuge or to find proselytes or for any other purpose consistent with the spirit of le Monde” (Saitta 95). And in the next paragraph of the document, Buonarroti starts to discuss the Carbonari, an institution that had similar doctrine and goals to his own, he said, and which, unlike Masonry, had merited his respect.
It should be noted at this point that, according to Lehning (122), the mobile deacons (diacre mobile) of the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits were admonished, by an Areopagite decree dated 1819, “to be initiated into the mysteries of the Rosicrucians” — as a preparatory measure, no doubt, for the inevitable encounter with eccentric/occult Masonic Obediences such as the one discussed below.
Order of Misraïm
Some parts of Europe have been tormented by a revolutionary exaltation, which secret societies nourish and propagate, by endeavouring chiefly to mislead the youth. These secret societies have been imported into France, and are come to soil this land of honour with their frightful oaths, their detestable plots, and their poniards—the arms worthy to second their projects. From their bosom have issued numerous emissaries, who, traversing the kingdom, have sought everywhere for support, or rather accomplices. These emissaries formed ties, which united these secret and criminal associations, and by their intervention all the correspondence took place.– First page excerpt, from the Charbonnerie trial indictment at Colmar, July 1822
Two of the six lodges during the Restoration that were openly hostile toward the Bourbons, were “Les Trinosophes” and “Les Sectateurs de Zoroastre.” The first was formed in 1815 by Jean-Marie Ragon de Bettignies (1781-1866), holder of a multitude of higher degrees and subsequently a prolific masonic writer; he was a member of l’Ordre de Misraïm, but had to renounce membership for the lodge to be recognized by the Grand Orient (Songhurst 101). (To this day, the rites of Memphis-Misraïm are considered fringe or clandestine and not officially acknowledged by most Grand Lodges.) The second, however, “Les Sectateurs de Zoroastre” [Zoroaster Cultists] was indeed a fully-fledged lodge of the Order of Misraïm, and directly tied to the rite’s founders — the Bédarride brothers (Clavel 259-61).
In brief: the precise origin of the rite is obscure. However it is acknowledged that the first Egyptian themed lodges—the Hebrew name for Egypt is Mizraim—were established in Italy, probably by Cagliostro himself in 1784 or 1788, prior to his incarceration by the Inquisition. In short order, the rituals were elaborated and expanded upon, and exported to France in 1814, by the brothers Michel, Joseph, and Marc Bédarride from Naples. These are in turn connected with another Egyptian-flavoured “Disciples of Memphis,” founded at about the same time and general area, by Gabriel-Matthieu Marconis, but ceasing activity because of its similarity with Misraïm, only to later emerge again in 1838 under the leadership of Marconis’ son, Jacques-Étienne Marconis de Nègre (1795-1868). Finally, the rites were officially reconciled and merged into the Primitive Rite of Memphis-Misraïm in 1881/82, the revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) as its “Grand Hierophant” (GLFM “Histoire”; Galtier 1989: 125; Hanegraaff 329, 768). Both Misraïm and Memphis contain 90+ degrees of rituals replete with pseudo-Egyptian themes, Alchemy, Hermeticism, the Kabbalah, as well as cribbing directly from the founding myths of the Golden and Rosy Cross of Germany, enunciated in the mid-18th-century.
The French authorities immediately began to monitor its lodges, particularly because of its Italian origin, suspected alliance with the Carbonari and recruiting within the military. The fact that the Bédarrides were Jewish, including at least one Rabbi in its inner circle (GLFM “Histoire”) must have added to the suspicion. Perhaps the authorities were also privy to an 1818 Austrian police report about a “Société Secrète Egyptienne,” established in Alexandria and Cairo. Its “Grand-Cophte” was Bernardino Drovetti (1776-1852), the Napoleonic consul to Egypt. Utilizing masonic lodges, according to the report, its purpose was to meddle in the politics in Italy and the Ionian Islands. Agents and emissaries of the secret society were said to be stationed in the islands and ports of the Mediterranean Sea (Galtier 2006).
As recounted by Spitzer:
[T]he police archives are filled with reports on the Egyptian rite of the Misraïm, an offshoot of masonry which enjoyed considerable success with the ninety grades its hierarchy could boast in competition with the mere thirty-three of the Scottish rite. The orthodox Grand Orient finally denounced this new rite to the government which shut it down in 1822, concluding after painstaking investigations that it was a pernicious but unrevolutionary enterprise invented to line the pocket of its founders (56).
In regards to it being an “unrevolutionary enterprise,” however, one police inspector concluded otherwise.
Peg-leg-Duplay (jambe de bois) they called him. In 1792, at the age of eighteen, Simon Duplay (1774-1827) had lost his leg while a volunteer at the battle of Valmy. Maurice Duplay (1736-1820), the landlord of Robespierre, was his uncle. Fond of the young Simon, Robespierre employed him as a secretary for a time. Maurice was a Jacobin too, and his hospitable household was just doors away from the Jacobin club; the home of the Duplays became an extended family for Robespierre and he was happy living there until his death. Since Buonarroti was a friend of the Duplays, it was certainly during this time that Simon had become acquainted with him (Scurr 171-2, 194).
After Robespierre’s fall and execution, most of the Duplay family were arrested — Maurice, his wife Françoise, daughters Élisabeth and Éléonore, son Jacques and nephew Simon. Tragically, Françoise was found hanged in her cell—either suicide or murder. Maurice was imprisoned for a short time only and managed to avoid the guillotine. Simon, along with his cousins, ended up spending over a year in prison (McPhee 223). During his incarceration at du Plessis prison in Paris, Simon first met Gracchus Babeuf (as did Buonarroti who was also in jail). Buonarroti himself places Simon directly in the middle of the Pantheon Club and subsequent Conspiracy of Equals (Buonarroti 40, 88, 97-8).
Drawing on this rich past, then, Simon certainly was eminently qualified for his future post as “a remarkable specialist” at “the heart of the Restoration security system” (Spitzer 70). And even though it was Napoleon who broke up the Conspiracy of Equals, Simon had managed to get a job under the self-proclaimed Emperor and compiled for him a dossier “of all known political conspiracies since 1792.” It came to be known as the “green book” (Billington 123).
Following Napoleon’s abdication
… [and] as the armies of the European monarchies entered Paris, all hopes for revolution seemed to have ended. Babeuf’s son committed suicide; and Simon Duplay committed to the flames his “green book,” which alone might have provided a definitive history of early revolutionary conspiracy. But no sooner had he destroyed this massive inventory of those who had “troubled the tranquility of France” since 1792 than he was forced to begin another. Working for the restored Bourbons from 1815 until his death in 1827, he compiled some fifteen thousand dossiers on real-life organizations far more fanciful than Nodier’s Philadelphians or Buonarroti’s Sublime Perfect Masters. In his view, the seminal revolutionary organization was Didier’s; and the key role in developing a revolutionary movement throughout France was played by the Masonic Association of Misraïm, allegedly the original Egyptian Rite with 90 degrees of membership (128; my emphasis).
The main source for Billington’s revelation about Misraim’s “key role in developing a revolutionary movement throughout France” (which I haven’t been able to consult), was a lengthy report penned by Duplay, found in the Archives Nationales F7 6666, and published in full by Léonce Grasilier: “Un secrétaire de Robespierre: Simon Duplay (1774-1827) et son Mémoire sur les Sociétés secrètes et les conspirations sous la restauration,” in Revue internationale des sociétés secrètes, n°3 (Paris: 5 march 1913), pp. 510-554.
A document from the same folio series (F7 6666) is posted on the scholarly/primary-source website carboneria.it. Most likely it was written by Duplay himself and part of the report published by Grasilier. In any case, we’re informed, the lodges of the rite were shut down in 1823, in Paris and throughout France; the archives of the Order were confiscated by the government the year pervious. On its Supreme Council were two names worthy of note: Pierre-Joseph Briot (1771-1827) and Charles Teste. Both were linked to Buonarroti and his secret societies, the Italian Carbonari, and involved with the leaders of the French Charbonnerie (Lehning 133; Eisenstein 105). In the case of Teste, as mentioned above, he was one of the first recruits in Joseph Rey’s Union — this alone attests to his revolutionary ties at an early date, before 1820. Afterwards, he would be well-known as one of Buonarroti’s most trusted agents, from 1828 onwards (Eisenstein 101-09, 149-51). On Briot, here’s a short synopsis (Billington 130-1):
The original Philadelphians of the 1790s had come from the wooded and relatively unspoiled Jura region between Besancon and Geneva; Buonarroti and his friends operated there until he moved to Brussels in 1824 … This rural mutation of Masonry from Besancon was transplanted by the Napoleonic armies to southern Italy, where it was politicized and popularized throughout the Kingdom of Naples during the rule of Napoleon’s maverick brother-in-law, Joachim Murat (1808-15). A leading role was played by a veteran of the Besancon group, Jean-Pierre Briot, whose fascination with a new type of forest fraternity was apparently fueled by the experience of escaping from Austrian imprisonment into the Black Forest and by his own political experience as revolutionary commissioner for the Island of Elba in 1801-02, before moving to Naples and founding the first Carbonari group in 1807.
This Grand Master of Misraïm—on its directing council no less—was responsible, it seems, for founding the Carbonari itself. Furthermore, nearly everything I’ve read about the secret society discusses Briot as having played a prominent role, if not its actual founder. J. M. Roberts even—that unrelenting naysayer of the power of secret societies during the 18th and 19th centuries—wrote that after arriving in Naples in 1806, Briot “seems to have sown the seeds of the first Carbonari lodges. In 1808 he is known to have asked his wife to send him his masonic notebooks and it may have been in connexion with the setting-up of the Carbonari that he did this” (298).
It is not such a stretch to suppose that both Teste and Briot may have been “mobile deacons” for the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits. Briot, after all, was a member of the Philadelphes which, as previously noted, had been absorbed into Buonarroti’s secret society in 1812. Of the 90 degrees in Misraïm at the time, the last three were purposely concealed. The masonic archivist Claude-Antoine Thory, in the first volume of the valuable Acta Latomorum, published in 1815, notes: “All its degrees, except the 88th, 89th and 90th have different names that can be read in our nomenclature. With regard to these last three, we do not know their name: in the manuscript we have they are indicated as veiled, and those who possess it are called Maîtres absolus [Absolute masters]; they claim the privilege of leading instinctively all branches of Freemasonry” (Thory 327-8). A further bit of circumstantial evidence, though admittedly unreliable, comes via the police informant/turncoat J. Witt-Döring, who testified to the Bayreuth authorities in 1824 that the last veiled grades of Misraïm were “dependent on the ‘Comité directeur’” (Lehning 133 n.5) — that is to say, the secret controlling body of conspirators assumed to be pulling the strings behind the scenes, either in Paris or Geneva.
When Joubert and Dugied returned with information on the inner-workings of the Italian Carbonari, they found that their cohorts had been busy studying the techniques of German secret societies (Spitzer 231 and n. 58). These methods probably included those of the Burschenschaften, but would also have encompassed the system that Adam Weishaupt (1748-1830) proposed for the Illuminati.
In a letter dated 16 February, 1782, Weishaupt writes to his underling, Franz Xaver von Zwack (1756-1843):
I would like to introduce amongst the brethren a perfect discipline … My work with you shall be carried out as indicated by the following figure:
Immediately under me, I have two [subordinates] into whom I infuse my whole spirit; these two in turn correspond with two others, and so on. In this manner, and with the simplest means possible, I will inflame a thousand men into action. Similarly, this is the same method by which secret societies necessarily operate within the political sphere (Nachtrag, I, 31-2).
And again, more explicitly, Weishaupt to Ferdinand Maria Baader (1747-97) a few days later:
I have sent to Cato an outline according to which we can, methodically and without much trouble, lead, with the largest number of men, the greatest Order to the best results…
The spirit of the first, the most zealous and the most enlightened, communicates daily and incessantly with a a; the a interacts with b b, and the other a with c c; b b and c c convey [their orders] in the same fashion to the 8 immediately below, these to the next 16, the 16 to the 32 which follow, and so forth. I have written to Cato already in more detail. In short: each one has two wing-adjutants, through whose intermediary he acts on all the others. It is from the center that the whole force issues and flows back upon itself again. Each member bounds in definite subordination two initiates, whom he studies and observes completely, moulds, excites and drills, so to speak, like recruits, so that finally some day they have the advantage of exercising with the whole regiment. We can proceed in this manner throughout all the degrees (ibid 59-60; cf. Melanson 241-243).
The budding revolutionaries during the subsequent centuries marvelled at the ingeniousness, almost military precision of such a stratagem. They must have; for it was replicated, implemented, and tinkered with endlessly. The beauty of such a system is the simplicity and rate with which it could be expanded, all the while maintaining a protective buffer for those “unknown superiors” at the top. Additionally, those at the same level had no way of contacting, or even knowing that the others existed—both a cellular and pyramidal structure.
It was almost identical to the way the Italian Carbonari had operated and the French Charbonnerie as well. On the precise method of the latter, we can do no better than to quote from Louis Blanc (the socialist contemporary and friend of many of those involved):
It was agreed that around a parent association called the haute vente, there should be formed under the name of ventes centrales other associations, which again were to have under them ventes particulieres. The number of members in each association was limited to twenty, to evade the provisions of the penal code. The haute vente was originally composed of the seven founders of charbonnerie, Bazard, Flotard, Buchez, Dugied, Carriol, Joubert, and Limperani. It filled up vacancies in its own body.
The following was the method adopted to form the ventes centrales: Two members of the haute vente took a third person as their associate without making him acquainted with their rank, and they named him president of the incipient vente, at the same time assuming to themselves the one the title of deputy, the other that of censor. The duty of the deputy being to correspond with the superior association, and that of censor to control the proceedings of the secondary association, the haute vente became by these means the brain as it were of each of the ventes it created, whilst it remained in relation to them mistress of its own secret and of its own acts.
The ventes particulieres were only administrative subdivisions, having for objects to avoid the complications which the progress of charbonnerie might introduce into the relations between the haute vente and the deputies of the ventes centrales. As the latter emanated from the parent society, so did the inferior societies from the secondary. There was an admirable elasticity in this arrangement: the ventes were speedily multiplied ad infinitum.
The impossibility of altogether baffling the efforts of the police had been clearly foreseen: in order to diminish the importance of this difficulty, it was agreed that the several ventes should act in common, without, however, knowing each other, so that the police might not be able to lay hold on the whole ramification of the system, except by penetrating the secrets of the haute vente. It was consequently forbidden every charbonnier belonging to one vente to attempt to gain admission into another, and this prohibition was backed by the penalty of death.
The founders of charbonnerie had counted on the support of the troops; hence the double organization given to the system. Each vente was subjected to a military staff, the gradations of which were parallel with those of the civil officership. Corresponding respectively with charbonnerie, the haute vente, the ventes centrales, and the ventes particulieres, there were the legion, the cohortes, the centuries, and the manipules. When charbonnerie acted civilly, the military officership was in abeyance; on the other hand, when it acted in a military point of view, the functions of the civil officers were suspended. Independently of the force derived from the play of these two powers, and from their alternate government, the double denominations they rendered necessary afforded a means of baffling the researches of the police.
The duties of the charbonnier were, to have in his possession a gun and fifty cartridges, to be ready to devote himself, and blindly to obey the orders of unknown leaders (Blanc 49-50).
By the end of 1821 “several hundred ventes” were operating in Paris (Spitzer 191). From this center, cells (or ventes) quickly spread throughout France, concentrated mostly in the east and west (see map below; markers correspond to verified cells). At its height, after only a little more than a year, there were as many as 50,000 members, though the guesses of the government ran as high as 800,000 (241-3).
The following is a chronological list of Carbonari conspiracy, 1821-22 (condensed from Spitzer 77-141).
The cavalry school plot, at Saumur, in December 1821: a plan for simultaneous insurrections is uncovered, with direct connections to a pseudo-masonic, secret society called Chevaliers de la Liberté, which was allied and later subsumed by the Carbonari.
Belfort, 1 January 1822: officers conspire in an attempted coup; shots fired; bandits chased away. Arrests and investigations quickly followed; the taking of Belfort was to be a signal for a national revolution.
Toulon, 7 January: a Captain Vallé unwittingly discloses a plot to overthrow the government within the next three or four days; Carbonari documents uncovered by the police on follow-up investigation.
Nantes, 5 February: several officers and noncoms of the thirteenth regiment are arrested after the revelations of a Sergeant Major Ranvaud; Carbonari are implicated, and the Chevaliers de la Liberté as well — statutes, oaths, ceremonies, secret signs and grips of the latter are uncovered.
24-25 February: at 6AM on the 24th, the citizens at Thouars are awakened by the revolutionary tocsin; the town had been seized by General Jean-Baptiste Berton along with “rotten elements in the National Guard led by armed officers and reinforced by persons from the surrounding countryside” (109). They march onward toward Saumur and arrive in the evening. Its mayor confronts Berton and persuades him not to engage. The stalemate continues through the night, which allows most of the insurgents to escape before morning, including Berton.
Mid-March: subversion of the forty-fifth regiment. The famous Four Sergeants of La Rochelle—Pommier, Goubin, Bories, Raoulx—arrested. Detailed confessions from at least two would disclose Carbonari operations and recruits all the way to the heart of Paris; fugitive Berton was implicated as well.
Late March/early April: subversion of the fortieth regiment at Strasbourg. A soldier manages to get initiated into the Carbonari in an undercover investigation; four Lieutenants are arrested.
July, the Colmar Affair: the entrapment of ex-Colonel Caron. The latter had sussed out recruits to free the Belfort conspirators held in Colmar. After leading him on for a bit, the authorities arrested him.
After the conspiracies and attempted insurrections were thwarted, suspects arrested and interrogated—Berton too, in June—the justice system took over, and a series of trials played out in public. Eight members of the Amis de la Vérité were implicated in the Belfort plot and another five in the La Rochelle affair (191), including Buchez, Bazard, Joubert and Flottard (122, 161-2).
Although there was not sufficient evidence to bring most of the leaders of the organization to book, the police netted a sufficient number of less prudent elements to stage a series of political trials that contributed ten victims to revolutionary martyrology, notably including the appealing, poignantly naive four sergeants of La Rochelle who became, and remain to this day, the object of a minor cult. The arrest and executions of 1822 marked the end of a large-scale attempt at the overthrow of the Bourbon regime through plot and insurrection, and many of the activists of the conspiratorial organization turned to the legal opposition that contributed to the last crisis of the monarchy in 1830. While ex-carbonari did not notably figure on the barricades in the Three Glorious Days, they were actively engaged in consolidating the new revolutionary administration in Paris.
The four sergeants were guillotined at Place de Grève in Paris, 21 September, 1822. Following the July Revolution of 1830, a public celebration was held there, on the eighth anniversary, in which a spokesman for the Amis de la Vérité is recorded as saying: “What was their crime? Their crime, citizens [was that] they had attempted what you have accomplished: they conspired for liberty” (Spitzer 4).
During the tenth anniversary, the lodge took to the streets again. The event is recorded in Revue de la franc-maçonnerie:
The lodge of the Amis de la Vérité, who had resolved to publicly celebrate the anniversary of the execution of the brothers Bories, Pommier, Goubin et Raoux [sic], all four members of this lodge, accused of conspiracy against the government of the Bourbons, which took place September 21, 1822, met locally for its regular meeting at rue de Grenelle St. Honoré. At half past two, the procession advanced and headed to the Place de Grève. Four commissioners, decorated with tricolor armbands, each carried a banner decorated with oak leaves, embroidered with the names Bories, Pommier, Goubin and Raoux. Respect and order greeted the procession; the 300 brothers exiting the rue de Grenelle, rose to 500 in the court of the Louvre, and increased successively until 2000 arrived at the place de Grève, where they were met with the silence of a large crowd. Wherever they had gone, the line of the National Guard gave military honours, and everyone was inspired with reverence and admiration. At precisely four o’clock, that fatal hour of these unfortunate victims, a drum roll is heard, and one of the members of the lodge, the brother Buchez, gave a speech appropriate for the occasion. After the ceremony, the procession returned to the local lodge, where a petition to the Chamber of Deputies for the abolition of the death penalty, was adopted by vote, and, in an instant, covered with signatures.
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- Blanchet, Régis. “La Charbonnerie française du début du XIXe siècle,” Carbonería.it
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- —. “L’époque révolutionnaire et le retour aux Mystères antiques: la naissance des rites égyptiens de la maçonnerie,” POLITICA HERMETICA, n° 3 (1989)
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- Songhurst, Bro. W. John. “Ragon,” Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Vol. 18 (1905)
- Spitzer, Alan B. Old Hatreds and Young Hopes: The French Carbonari against the Bourbon Restoration (Harvard University Press, 1971)
- Thory, C.A. Acta Latomorum, ou chronologie de l’histoire de la franche-maçonnerie française et étrangere, v. 1 (1815)
- Weill, Georges. “Les Memoires de Joseph Rey,” Revue historique, n°157 (1928)