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The Guillotine

By gabtrud Oct 13, 2014 609 Words

The Guillotine

What’s the first mean of execution you think of? A firing squad? An electric chair? Hanging? What about the guillotine? Can you imagine walking up to a platform, laying down on a bench with your head in a hole and within 7 seconds your life being over? The guillotine was created for a less gruesome execution. It both succeeded and failed to display humanitarian beliefs and the ideals of the French Revolution. The guillotine symbolized the ideas of the French Revolution (Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity). It did this by creating equality through the way people were executed. A first example of how the guillotine symbolized equality is who was executed. No matter what social class you were in you were executed the same way. Before the guillotine, “the form of execution depended in part on a person's class” ( Now, it didn’t matter whether you were of high class or low class, if you broke a law you were put through fair punishment of execution by the guillotine. The Declaration of The Rights of Man states that, “men are born free and remain free and equal” (Declaration of The Rights of Man, article 1). The guillotine represents equality in that men stay equal all their lives, even through death. Although the guillotine succeeded at creating a sense of equality, it failed to symbolize the ideals of the French Revolution. During the Reign of Terror the leader of the Committee of Public Safety, Max Robespierre, abused his use of the guillotine. He took his power too far and people like him became, “crazed for bloody justice” (The Guillotine Project paper, front). Because of him, “around 50,000 were killed, many of whom lost their heads to the guillotine” ( Some of these people broke laws but many were just people who didn’t agree with Robespierre or were against the revolution (counter revolutionaries). Jean Paul Marat, for instance, wrote the “Friend of the People”, a newspaper stating ideas of the Committee for Public Safety and calling out counter revolutionaries. This went against the ideals of the revolution because it took away the liberty of the French people. When Robespierre killed the counter revolutionaries, he essentially took away the right of the people to believe what they wanted to believe. A major right he took away was the freedom of speech which states that, “the free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man” (Declaration of The Rights of Man, article 11). The guillotine although invented to be a humanitarian device, symbolized something entirely different. The guillotine was invented with humanitarian interests in mind but it became something much more. To the people it was a sign of bloody death and fair justice. To the leaders it was a sign of control and power over the people, not a sign peace. It did, however, display some examples of humanitarianism. A humanitarian device is anything, “having concern for or helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people” (, humanitarian). The guillotine helped to improve the welfare of the people but not necessarily their happiness. When the guillotine was first invented, it was argued that, “this method was the only humane mode of execution which insured the condemned a swift and painless death” (, The History of The Guillotine). In that way, it makes it more forgiving. Even though many people were executed, it was a painless death that made the death sentence more peaceful and harmless. The guillotine, as a result, evoked images of both a nation striving for equality and a society desperate for violent bloody justice.

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