The Execution (guillotine) of Lavoisier

Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier (26 August 1743 – 8 May 1794) was a French noble prominent in the histories of chemistry and biology. He stated the first version of the law of conservation of mass, recognized and named oxygen and hydrogen

He did become interested in French politics, and at the age of 26 he obtained a position as a tax collector in the Ferme Générale, a tax farming company, where he attempted to introduce reforms in the French monetary and taxation system to help the peasants

As one of twenty-eight French tax collectors and a powerful figure in the unpopular Ferme Générale, Lavoisier was branded a traitor during the Reign of Terror by French Revolutionists in 1794. Lavoisier had also intervened on behalf of a number of foreign-born scientists including mathematician Joseph Louis Lagrange, granting them exception to a mandate stripping all foreigners of possessions and freedom. Lavoisier was tried, convicted, and guillotined on 8 May in Paris, at the age of 50.

Lavoisier was actually one of the few liberals in his position. One of his actions that may have sealed his fate was a clash a few years earlier with the young Jean-Paul Marat whom he dismissed curtly after being presented with a preposterous 'scientific invention'. Marat subsequently became a leading revolutionary and one of the French Revolution's more extreme "professional common men."

An appeal to spare his life so that he could continue his experiments was cut short by the judge: "The Republic needs neither scientists nor chemists; the course of justice can not be delayed.

Lavoisier's importance to science was expressed by Lagrange who lamented the beheading by saying: "It took them only an instant to cut off his head, but France may not produce another like it in a century.” One and a half years following his death, Lavoisier was exonerated by the French government. When his private belongings were delivered to his widow, a brief note was included reading "To the widow of Lavoisier, who was falsely convicted."

About a century after his death, a statue of Lavoisier was erected in Paris. It was later discovered that the sculptor had not actually copied Lavoisier's head for the statue, but used a spare head of the Marquis de Condorcet, the Secretary of the Academy of Sciences during Lavoisier's last years. Lack of money prevented alterations being made. The statue was melted down during the Second World War and has not since been replaced.

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