Alphonse de Lamartine


Lamartine, Wisconsin




          Alphonse de Lamartine was a French poet and political leader, who lived from 1790 to 1869. Although widely traveled in Europe and the Middle East, he never journeyed, himself, to the United States. His first endeavors were in poetry, on which he centered his activities from 1823 to 1830, during part of which time he was the secretary at the French Legation in Florence and Naples, Italy. In 1832 he changed the course of his pursuits, however, from poetry to politics, as a candidate for he French Chamber of Deputies, for which he was elected, after an initial defeat, in 1833. (1) His pursuits, thereafter, as such representative were for social reforms, on behalf of the underprivileged of his nation. He did not forsake his literary talents during that period; instead, he wrote socially directed political works (Voyage en Orient - 1835; Jocelyn - 1836; and La Chute d'un Ange - 1838, and History of Girondins - 1847). These works were translated into English and widely distributed and their social impact was felt, not only in France, but in America. This was, among other reasons, that concomitant with his social literary work, there were other French reformists, among them Charles Fourier, who were championing the same platform. While sometimes called a "pre-marxist socialist", Fourier's writings were non- revolutionary, as contrasted with Marx. (2). Fourier's purpose centered around independent "harmonious" communities that would self-suffice themselves as part of the changes he envisioned that society would undergo, with agriculture at the forefront of such society, and industry subordinated to it. (3). He shared Marx's beliefs about the social, economic, and cultural and moral declines he saw in the world about him and foresaw a Utopia of sorts being created by his perception of a new order in society. (4)


          The writings of Fourier led to social experiments, based on his communal concepts, including some in the United States. Among them were the Mormon and Mennonite communities. However, more closely associated with Fourier, was a group of enthusiasts in what now is Kenosha County Wisconsin who were inspired by the writings of of the journalist, Horace Greeley, writing in the New York Tribune. Greeley's writings were based on what Fourier wrote - and Greeley pursued the Fourier experimental model vigorously in advocating a new and better system of life following economic woes after the panic of 1837. Greeley's crusading spirit found a following in the area now Kenosha County, where a group of enthusiasts organized a plan for the harmonious living that Fourier envisioned, under the direction of Warren Chase, who established such a Fourier-styled commune in the Ceresco Valley, in 1844 which subsequently became Ripon, Wisconsin in Fond du Lac County.
          This coincided with the early activity in nearby Seven Mile Creek, wherein a non-Fourierian community was being founded by Peter Sang, and which became a legal township by that name in 1847.       

          Wisconsin's first state legislature convened in 1848, and Warren Chase was the senator representing the Fond du Lac area in the state senate at that time.


          It was in 1847,while Lamartine was a member of the French Chamber of Deputies, that his work, History of Girondins was published. This work has been acknowledged as one which led to the revolution of 1848, and catapulted Lamartine, at that time, into a leading political figure supporting the new Second French Republic, that was established on Feb. 24 1848, with Lamartine the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Four days later on February 28, the American ambassador in Paris, Mr. Rush, unofficially assured Lamartine of the sympathy of the United States government with the new order in France. This became official recognition on April 26 1848, following the first election in French history wherein all adult men were entitled to vote for the election of a national assembly, on April 24.(5) Lamartine, under the electoral system used in that election, received the largest number of votes, being supported by all political parties other than the extreme left. (6)


          Peter V. Sang, an organizer of the Seven Mile Creek Community, and then its postmaster and town clerk, circulated a petition to change the name of the town from Seven Mile Creek to Lamartine, in honor of the French revolutionary, whose works and political activity had been acknowledged by the United States Government on April 26 1848 by formal diplomatic recognition. On June 13,1848, a bill was offered to the First Wisconsin Legislature, to change the name of the community from Seven Mile Creek to Lamartine, and Warren Chase, the leader of the Fouriers, then living in the commune of Ceresco (now Ripon, and the duly elected senator representing the present Fond du Lac area) offered the bill. (7) The bill was passed and signed into law by Governor Nelson Dewey on Aug. 8 1848. (8) Elsewhere, the admiration of Americans for Lamartine was noted. (9) He also obtained regard as "The George Washington of France". (10).


          After the revolution of 1848, the newly formed republic lasted only through June of that year. It was then uprooted by a counter-revolution which installed Louis Napoleon as President in July 1848. It was at that time that Lamartine's fortunes began to ebb. In an election held for the presidency of France in which Lamartine was a candidate, in December 1848, he polled only 18,000 votes as compared with more than a million votes the previous April. This downfall prompted the poet James Russell Lowell to compose a poem in his honor. (11). After his electoral defeat, he retired to private life where he published more works, to pay the debts he had incurred during previous years. (12)
          His fortunes continued down, and his debts so burdened him, he began publishing literary magazines, which he attempted to sell in the United States, without success through sales agents he dispatched from France. This effort further burdened him financially, and he fell into obscurity, and died in 1869.


(1) As a member of the Chamber of Deputies he spoke in favor of meeting the obligations of France in paying a debt due to the United States, La France Parlementaire, Vol. 1 p. 40-48(1834)

(2) Marx borrowed the concepts of Fourier. See Kessous, N., Two French Precursors of Marxism: Rousseau and Fourier, Avebury (1966).

(3) Nouveau Monde Industriel - The New Industrial World - published by Fourier in 1829.

(4) Kessous, supra. note 2.

(5) Lamartine replied to Rush, on April 26 1848, saying : "Tout Français a pour les Américains le coeur de Lafayette" (All French have the heart of Lafayette for the Americans). La France Parlementaire, vol. V, p. 247.

(6) Fortescue, Alphonse de Lamartine, a Political Biography, St. Martin's Press (1983) p. 165.

(7) See appendix p. 1, for a copy of the legislative entry wherein Chase offered the bill. (to be added)

(8) See appendix p. 2-3 for a copy of the bill as passed and signed into law. (to be added)

(9) An American, M. Barthet, when visiting Paris, wanted to order a statute to be sent to New York to put in the halls of congress, of Lamartine, and said "We have been with three groups of Americans, who have great admiration for Mr. Lamartine." Alexandre, C.,Souvenirs sur Lamartine, G. Charpentier, Paris 1884.

(10) Lombard, C., Lamartine, Twayne, New York 1973, p. 111

(11) See appendix p. 4, "To Lamartine". (to be added)

(12) Genevieve (1851); Le Tailleur de Pierres de Saint-Point(1851); Confidences (1849); Raphael (1849); History of Turkey (1854); History of Russia (1855).

August 23 1999

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