étienne Cabet (1788-1856), French communist, was born at Dijon in 1788, the son of a cooper. He chose the profession of advocate, without succeeding in it, but ere long became notable as the persevering apostle of republicanism and communism. He assisted in a secondary way in the revolution of 1830, and obtained the appointment of procureur-général in Corsica under the government of Louis Philippe; but was dismissed for his attack upon the conservatism of the government, in his Histoire de la révolution de 1830. Elected, notwithstanding, to the chamber of deputies, he was prosecuted for his bitter criticism of the government, and obliged to go into exile in England in 1834, where he became an ardent disciple of Robert Owen. On the amnesty of 1839 he returned to France, and attracted some notice by the publication of a badly written and fiercely democratic history of the Revolution of 1789 (4 vols., 1840), and of a social romance, Voyage en Icarie, in which he set forth his peculiar views. These works met with some success among the radical working-men of Paris. Like Owen, he sought to realize his ideas in practice, and, pressed as well by his friends, he made arrangements for an experiment in communism on American soil.
By negotiations in England favoured by Owen, he purchased a considerable tract of land on the Red river, Texas, and drew up an elaborate scheme for the intending colony, community of property being the distinctive principle of the society. Accordingly in 1848 an expedition of 1500 "Icarians" sailed to America; but unexpected difficulties arose and the complaints of the disenchanted settlers soon reached Europe. Cabet, who had remained in France, had more than one judicial investigation to undergo in consequence, but was honourably acquitted. In 1849 he went out in person to America, but on his arrival, finding that the Mormons had been expelled from their city Nauvoo (q.v.), in Illinois, he transferred his settlement thither. There, with the exception of a journey to France, where he returned to defend himself successfully before the tribunals, he remained, the dictator of his little society. In 1856, however, he withdrew and died the same year at St Louis.
See Communism. Also Félix Bonnaud, Cabet et son oeuvre, appel à tous les socialistes (Paris, 1900); J. Prudhommeaux, Icaria and its Founder, étienne Cabet (Nîmes, 1907).