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President Sadi Carnot (Third Republic, France)

Last modified: 2018-06-27 by ivan sache
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Sadi Carnot's standard - Image by Ivan Sache, 18 April 2018

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Biography of Sadi Carnot

Marie-François-Sadi Carnot (1827-1894) was the 4th President of the Third Republic (1887-1894).
Sadi Carnot studied at École Polytechnique (valedictorian in 1857) and then at École des Ponts et Chaussées, therefore his nickname of "Engineer President". Appointed civil engineer in Annecy (Haute-Savoie), he let build the Collonges bridge in 1869. Elected Representative (moderate Republican) of Côte d'Or in 1871, he was appointed Secretary of the Republican Left. Undersecretary (1878) and then Secretary (1880) of Civil Engineering, Carnot negotiated in 1881 the fares with the railways companies, completed two years later with conventions. Minister of Finance (1885), Sadi Carnot succeeded in 1887 Jules Grévy (1807-1891) as President of the Republic after the withdrawal of his challenger, Jules Ferry (1832-1893).

Sadi Carnot, highly estimated for his aristocratic manners and his honesty, promoted the "State as protector of people". He rallied the Roman Catholics to the Republic with the support of Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903; elected in 1878). He supported laws regulating children's work and the establishment of workers' union as a means of struggling against anarchism. He inaugurated in 1888 Institut Pasteur and the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of Bordeaux, and reorganized the Health Service of the Armed Forces as an independent administrative service (Law of 1 July 1889).
Sadi Carnot's term was tainted by the rise and fall of Boulangisme (1888-1891), an aggressive nationalist movement led by General Georges Boulanger (1837-1891), the increase of anarchist attempts, and the Panama scandal (1889), a corruption affair linked to the building of the Panama Canal.
On the model of Emperor Napoléon III, Sadi Carnot enjoyed official trips and walkabouts; he visited several French provinces, Corsica included, and attended military exercises close to the eastern and northern borders of the country.

In 1894, the President was invited by Dr. Gailleton (1829-1904), Mayor of Lyon (1881-1900), to visit the colonial universal fair organized in the town. On 24 June, after the visit of the fair, Sadi Carnot presided a banquet organized for 1,000 guests in the Palais de la Bourse.
Afterwards, the official barouche transporting the president, the mayor and two generals headed amidst the crowd to the Grand Theater, where Racine's Andromaque had to be played by actors from the Comédie Française. While the barouche was blocked in the traffic, a young man jumped out of the crowd and nailed the president's chest with a dagger hidden in a piece of paper. Immediately captured by the escort, the young man shouted Vive l'anarchie !. Dr. Gailleton ordered to transport the president to the Prefecture, where he died 3 hours 30 later. Pr. Antoine Poncet (1849-1913) and Dr. Léopold Ollier (1830-1900), two renown surgeons, assisted by Dr. Raphaël Lépine (1840-1919), could not save the president. The autopsy performed by Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne (1843-1924) demonstrated that the president's liver had been totally perforated by the dagger.
Sadi Carnot's murderer was a young Italian apprentice-baker, Sante Geronimo Caserio (1873-1894). Caserio's trial, held on 2 and 3 August, provided evidence that the murder had been planned individually, without any support. Infuriated by the execution of the anarchists Émile Henri (1872-1894) and Auguste Vaillant (1861-1894), whom "Sadique Carnot" had refused to pardon, Caserio purchased a dagger in Sète, his home town, and traveled by train to Vienne; lacking money he walked the last 30 km to Lyon. Caserio's determination is highlighted in the letter he sent to his attorney, saying "I killed the President of the Republic not because I am a lunatic but in compliance with my anarchist ideal." He said to the jury "If you want my head, take it, but don't believe that by taking my head you will succeed stopping the anarchist propaganda". Caserio ironically asked the next President of the Republic, Casimir Périer (1847-1907), to pardon him, arguing he had facilitated his access to the presidency.
Caserio was sentenced to death and executed on 15 August, only 51 days after the crime. Sadi Carnot's murder prompted the adoption of the third of the laws known as "villainous", which aimed at repressing anarchism. The law adopted on 28 July 1894 banned any kind of anarchist propaganda; its enforcement allowed the closure of prominent anarchist newspapers and initiated a witch hunt that culminated with the Trial of the Thirty. The "villainous laws" were not abrogated until 23 December 1992, when the Penal Code was fully revamped.

Sadi Carnot was offered national funeral, which lasted from 29 June to 1 July. The last day, a mass was celebrated in the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, the music being directed by two of the most prominent composers of the time, Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) and Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). Sadi Carnot was then interred in vault No. XXIII of the Panthéon, facing his grandfather, the physicist, general and politician Lazare Carnot (aka "Le Grand Carnot", 1753-1823).
Sadi Carnot was the son of the historian and statesman Hippolyte Carnot (1801-1888), Minister of Public Education during the Second Republic and opponent to Napoléon III, and the nephew of the physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (1796-1832), who laid the foundations of thermodynamics. The uncommon surname of Sadi was coined by Lazare Carnot as a tribute to the Persian poet Saadi of Shiraz (13th century).
[P. Vayre. 2010. Assassinat de Marie-François-Sadi Carnot à Lyon, le 24 juin 1894 : défi chirurgical et gageure politique d'un martyre. e-mémoires de l'Académie Nationale de Chirurgie 9, 22-31]

Ivan Sache, 18 April 2018

Flag of Sadi Carnot

Album des pavillons nationaux et des marques distinctives des marines de guerre et de commerce (1889) [f9r89] shows Sadi Carnot's personal flag on the model of the flag of the Presidents of the Third Republic, a square Tricolore with a golden "C" in the center.

Ivan Sache, 18 April 2018