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Database: The Guillotine

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ACU Guillotine

Referred to by a number of euphemisms during the Revolution: the "little window," the "national razor," and a "cat's hole." The mechanism is made of simple elements: a sharp, heavy, angled blade, grooved struts to guide the blade, a lunette (two-piece wood frame for the head), and a release mechanism. The revolutionaries considered the guillotine as an advance for humanity. At the time, public executions could go horribly wrong. If the executioner did not manage to sever the victim's neck with a single swing of the sword, he could face legal proceedings for inflicting suffering that was not otherwise stated in the execution sentence. The guillotine was seen as a more humane, equal form of execution valid for all citizens. Dr. Guillotin asserted that victims would only feel a slight breath of air on their neck.

A persistent legend surrounds the design of the guillotine according to which Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotin reputedly asked for the King's advice concerning the creation of his famous machine, at which point the king suggested an angled blade. The King, of course, lost his head to the device on January 21, 1793 in the Place de la Révolution.

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