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Lakanal the Regicide
by John Charles Dawson
University of Alabama Press, 1948
Paper: 978-0-8173-5020-8

Biography of a free thinker in the time of the French Revolution
After being comparatively neglected for several generations, Joseph Lakanal received many posthumous honors. These memorials of esteem were the tribute of the men of the Third French Republic to an outstanding character of the First Republic, established by the National Convention in 1792.
In numerous towns and cities of France streets and boulevards were named for Lakanal, among them Paris, Tours, Toulouse, and Montpellier. Elementary schools received his name at Perigueux, Cette, Beziers. Secondary schools were named in his honor, such as the Lycee Lakanal at Paris and the College Lakanal at Beziers. At least two monuments were erected to his memory, the more imposing of which was a life-sized statue in bronze at Foix in his native Ariege. The ancient adage that a prophet is not without honor save in his own country was not true of Lakanal.
Lakanal belonged to a group of thinkers at the end of the eighteenth century known as Ideologists, a derogatory term applied to them by First Consul Bonaparte. When, during the period of the Consulate, Bonaparte had signed a Concordat with the Pope where­by Catholicism was restored to France, and when in 1802 he had sought to put into force the terms of the Concordat, he found a stumbling-block to his plans in the membership of the Class of Moral and Political Sciences of the lnstitut de France. In this group were to be found the most influential free-thinkers of the day: Lakanal, Garat, Cabanis, Volney, Ginguene, Mercier, Naigeon, Destutt de Tracy and others who had been consistently hostile to the Church, and who had become hostile to the ambition of Bonaparte.
On the political side, Lakanal was an austere democrat, and remained one all his life. Had he been willing to compromise, he would undoubtedly have gone far under Napoleon. His career is quite in contrast with that of Talleyrand, whose chameleon-like qualities enabled him to occupy high place in the Revolution, the Consulate, the Empire, the Restoration, and the more liberal gov­ernment of Louis Philippe.
In his profound belief in democracy and public education, and in the wide variety of his knowledge and interest in the various sciences, Lakanal is to be compared with Thomas Jefferson. The two men were of the same school of thought and possessed much in, common. In his passion for public education Lakanal may also be compared to Horace Mann.
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