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|Lazare Nicolas Marguérite Carnot
"the organizer of victory"
Lazare Nicolas Marguérite Carnot was born at Nolay, Côte-d'Or (Burgundy), on May 13, 1753. He was educated at the Collège d'Autun in Burgundy, an artillery and engineering prep school, graduated from the Mezières School of Engineering, and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Prince of Condé's engineer corps. In 1784, Carnot wrote his Éloge of the Marquis de Vauban, in which he promoted the virtues of Vauban's theories on fortifications. He subsequently abandoned those theories, however, and sided with the "perpendicular" school. He was promoted to the rank of Captain later the same year.
Political and Military Career
Carnot became politically active upon outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1791, and soon after elected to the Committee for Public Instruction. As a member of the latter body, he wrote a series of reforms for teaching and educational systems in France, but they were never implemented due to the social upheavals of the day. Upon dissolution of the Assembly in 1792, Carnot was elected to the National Convention, and as a member of that body voted for the execution of King Louis XVI. During the campaigns of 1792 and 1793 he was employed as a military commissioner, and in April of the latter year he was charged with the reorganization of the army on the northeastern frontier.
In August of 1793, Carnot was made a member of the Committee of Public Safety and was given the direction of the armed forces. In this capacity he revolutionized the logistics and fighting tactics of the French Revolutionary Army, abandoning the staid tactics of the Prussian military school then followed by almost every other European army. He abandoned the idea of trying to defend all points at one time, and formed the French armies into large masses capable of striking deadly blows at the enemy. He made the entire able-bodied male population subject to conscription, and organized fourteen armies within one year. He also saw to it that the soldiers were fed, clothed, and supplied with munitions far more efficiently than ever before. For his efforts he was hailed as "the organizer of victory."
Carnot was one of the five members of the Directory which ruled France between 1795 and 1797, and twice served as its president. The Directory was ovethrown on September 4, 1797, and Carnot was forced to flee to Geneva to escape proscription for his supposedly royalist sympathies. He returned in 1799, after Napoleon Bonaparte came to power.
As Napoleon's Minister of War from 1800 to 1801, Carnot effected reforms in every part of the military administration and greatly reduced the expenses of the armies. He resigned late in 1801 to have more time to pursue his scientific interests, but returned to active politics in 1802 as an opponent of giving Napoleon consular powers for life. He subsequently served as a member of the Tribunate, from 1802 to 1807, and once again retired to his scientific pursuits. Despite his objections to Napoleon's monarchial aspirations, he was granted a pension by Napoleon in 1809.
In 1814, when France was threatened, Carnot offered his services to Napoleon, who appointed him governor of Antwerp. He defended the city so well that Napoleon made him a peer of France. He served as Minister of the Interior during the Hundred Days of 1815, but was exiled by Louis XVIII after the Restoration. After a brief stay in Warsaw he moved to Magdeburg, Prussia, where he died on August 2, 1823. In 1889 his remains were moved to the Panthéon in Paris.
In 1783, Carnot published Essai sur les machines en général (Essay on Machines), in which he outlined the principle of energy as applied to a falling weight and proved that kinetic energy is lost in the collision of imperfectly elastic bodies. The work earned him admittance to a literary society.
De la défense de places fortes, published in 1810, became a standard work on fortification.
Other major scientific works by Carnot include: La métaphysique du calcul infinitésimal (1797); De la corrélation des figures de géométrie (1801), Géométrie de position (1803), and Principes fondamentaux de l'eéquilibre et du mouvement (1803).
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This page was last updated on May 26, 2017.