10 October

It probably didn't feel like it to the 15,000 or so people whose heads it removed over the next two decades, but the guillotine was introduced as a 'painless and private capital punishment method equal for all the classes, as an interim step towards completely banning the death penalty'.

October 10, 2009 · 1 min read

Dr Joseph Ignace Guillotin ‘belonged to a small reform movement that sought to banish the death penalty completely. On October 10th 1789 – the second day of the debate about France’s penal code – Guillotin proposed six articles to the new Legislative Assembly. In one of them he proposed that “the criminal shall be decapitated; this will be done solely by means of a simple mechanism”. This was defined as a “machine that beheads painlessly”.

‘This uniform method of executing was to replace the inhumane methods such as burning, mutilation, drowning, and hanging. An easy death – so to speak – was no longer to be the prerogative of nobles. Guillotin also wanted the machine to be hidden from the view of large crowds, in accord with his view that the execution should be private and dignified.’

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