Sadi Carnot assassinated by an anarchist

Sadi Carnot assassinated by an anarchist

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Title: Assassination of President Carnot, June 30, 1894

Creation date : 1894 -

Date shown: June 24, 1894

Storage place: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: BnF, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / BnF image

Picture reference: 12-566902

Assassination of President Carnot, June 30, 1894

© BnF, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / BnF image

Publication date: September 2018

Historical context

The assassination of President Carnot on the front page of La Libre Parole Illustrée

On June 24, 1894, the President of the Republic Sadi Carnot was assassinated by Sante Geronimo Caserio, during an official visit to Lyon. At 9.15 p.m., rue de la République, the young 20-year-old Italian anarchist manages to approach the presidential convoy and stabs his victim before being arrested.

This event takes place in a context of great social and political tension marked by a cycle of violence and repression. To fight against this threat, the government also adopts a series of repressive laws (called "villains" by those who, especially on the left, oppose it) which harden antagonistic positions.

Like all French press titles, Free Speech illustrated naturally devotes its front page of Saturday, June 30, 1894 (as indicated by the banner at the top right of the page) to the assassination of President Carnot. She nevertheless chooses to approach it from a very particular angle, in all respects in accordance with its own positioning and rhetoric.

Because the everyday Free Speech, founded in 1892 by the polemicist Edouard Drumond - like his illustrated weekly supplement launched in July 1893 from which this drawing is extracted - claims precisely not to be a publication "like the others". So, Assassination of President Carnot expresses an interesting and revealing specific approach, moreover widely taken up, commented on, approved or criticized by contemporaries.

Image Analysis

Everything is in the legend

This drawing (anonymous) in full page occupies a very large part of the composition and leaves little room for the text. The scene is rendered in black, gray and white hues, enhanced by two red touches (the gendarme's kepi and the ribbon of Carnot's official costume) which evoke blood and violence.

On this evening of June 24, Avenue de la République in Lyon is decked out (flags and garlands). A compact crowd (sketched out with pencils) is present on the passage of the convoy. There are four men in the center of the image. Slightly stretched out in his seat, Carnot lies, already inert, his eyes closed. Standing on the step is Sante Geronimo Caserio, in a white suit (and, more unusually, pictured here with a kepi), who has just given the fatal stab and still holds his knife in his hand. It is controlled by a civilian in a frock coat (Antoine Gailleton, the mayor of the city or General Nicolas Joseph Voisin, its military governor?), Supported by Brigadier General Léon Borius, former head of the Military House of the President of the Republic . In the foreground on the left, a more anonymous figure stands out (in white), which expresses panic and amazement. To the right, a lone gendarme reaches out and approaches, powerless to prevent the tragedy that has already occurred but perhaps ready to participate in the arrest of the culprit.

Visible at the top of the page, the subtitle on all of the daily and weekly headlines France to the French, and some administrative information (including, prominently, the name of the director, Edouard Drumont). At the bottom, we can read the title Assassination of President Carnot as well as the legend which, finally, gives an unexpected and particular tenor to this "one": "What was the use of the 800,000 additional police francs against the anarchists ».


"Propaganda by the fact" diverted

Contrary to the reactions of almost all French newspapers, Illustrated Free Speech does not just report on the attack by accusing the anarchists and saluting the memory of Carnot. While the drawing itself is similar to many illustrations that appeared on this occasion, the legend ofAssassination of President Carnot rout by denouncing - above all else - the uselessness and waste of public money in this affair. Despite the security measures taken against the anarchists in addition to the repressive laws put in place at the end of 1893 to prevent other attacks, the authorities therefore remain ineffective, incapable of maintaining order (see the figure of the gendarme powerless). In an echo of the Panama scandal, it is even suggested that he would be, once again, corrupt or at least guilty of mismanagement: "Where did the money go? »One might indeed wonder following this outraged sentence.

Paradoxically, the drawing therefore uses this event - yet conducive to national communion around the thus bruised Republic - to carve a populist vein very critical of the regime in place. Admittedly, the newspaper does not dare to tarnish the figure of Carnot (represented with sufficient dignity). And he is far from supporting the troublemakers in their demands: "the anarchists" are here referred to their dangerousness since it would have been necessary, precisely, for the police to be more efficient given the means that they had been granted. It not remain that Illustrated Free Speech takes opinion on the wrong foot, trying to replace a widely shared emotion (the president has been killed, the Republic is attacked) with another, more vindictive (power perishes where it sins, its weakness).

In this regard, we can say that this drawing operates a kind of diversion of the “propaganda by the deed” dear to anarchists. By a subtle displacement, the "fact" is no longer here the violent action in itself, supposed to convince and arouse revolutionary vocations, but the simple possibility of its realization, which demonstrates by the effect (by the fact) the glaring failings and insufficiencies of the power in place.

  • Carnot (Sadi)
  • assassinations
  • anarchism
  • Lyon
  • lyonnais
  • attack
  • Drumont (Edouard)
  • propaganda
  • Third Republic


AGHULON, Mauritius, Marianne in power, republican imagery and symbolism from 1880 to 1914, Paris, Flammarion, 1989.

BOUHEY, Vivien, The Anarchists against the Republic. Contribution to the history of networks (1880-1914), Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2008.

MAITRON, Jean, The Anarchist Movement in France, Gallimard, coll. "Tel", 1992.

ROBERT, Vincent, “Laws, censorship and freedom”, in Dominique Kalifa (dir.), Newspaper civilization, Paris, Nouveau Monde editions, 2011.

The assassination of President Sadi Carnot and the trial of Santo Ironimo Caserio. Proceedings of the conference organized in Lyon on June 21, 1994, Lyon, Storck, 1995.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Sadi Carnot assassinated by an anarchist"

Video: Noam Chomsky - Why Havent Anarchist Ideas Had a Greater Impact?


  1. Kana

    It is remarkable, the helpful information

  2. Miguel

    Chill out!

  3. Oswy

    It is by far the exception

  4. Shakak

    What a phrase ... super, great idea

  5. Shareek

    This does not suit me.Are there other variants?

  6. Aethelbeorn

    There is something in this. Thanks for the explanation. I did not know it.

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