(a tool that was developed to be a humanitarian and egalitarian method of execution)

In our modern-day thinking, people consider the guillotine a particularly gruesome machine of death, but not those who developed its use during the French Revolution

  • The French revolutionaries considered the invention of the guillotine as a necessary method during the French Revolution because so many people were being executed.
  • Until that time there were two methods of capital punishment:
    1. For the common criminal of the "riffraff" variety, there was hanging.
    2. For the nobility, there was the privilege of decapitation; usually, by a broad ax; which was often a messy procedure because of nervous hands and the sloppy technique that often required more than one blow; thereby, prolonging the execution and the agony of the victim.

  • Therefore, it was proposed that decapitation could more efficiently and humanely be performed by a machine.
  • The suggestion was made by Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), a French physician and deputy to the Constituent Assembly in 1789.
  • Contrary to legend, the machine was not invented by Guillotin himself, but by a German mechanic named Tobias Schmidt with instructions by the French surgeon Dr. Antoine Louis.
  • After several successful experiments with dead bodies at a hospital, the new method was first used with success on April 25, 1792, when it was utilized to do away with a notorious highwayman named Pelletier.
  • Regardless of what some writers have indicated, Dr. Guillotin never became a victim of the guillotine; instead, he is said to have died a natural death with his head still attached.
— Compiled from material provided by
Webster Word Histories; Merriam-Webster, Inc., Publishers;
Springfield, Massachusetts; 1989; pages 206-207.

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