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Paris in the Spring and Guillotines

And so the beheadings begin with new death penalty legislation in France. Capital punishment should be more merciful. (In these days "the rack" is considered fairly reasonable for the traditional law-and-order guys but we are talking more merciful than that.) Dr. Guillotin has suggested a killing machine... a frame holding a weighted blade which drops. The head is sliced off at the neck in one stroke. Done. It is to be applied equally to aristocrat and commoner alike. It is first used on a highway robber. The details are unclear, but apparently he killed someone during a robbery. On April 25th at 3:30 in the afternoon, Nicolas Pelletier, climbs up to the machine. He is wearing a red shirt, and the execution device is painted red. A large crowd awaits the event. In less than a minute the deed is done. The crowd is disappointed. They had hoped it would last longer. At least with a hanging the guy kicks a little. But it is the law and it will remain the only form of capital punishment in France until 1981 with the exception of military punishment where a firing squad might be more practical. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
FYI, King Louis the 16th had his visit with the guillotine in January of 1793, followed by his wife later that year. At first, the machine was named after King Louis (called the louisette) and later took the name of Dr. Guillotin. Please note that he did not invent the device. The doctor was against the death penalty but if they were going have a death penalty, he figured it might as well be quick and sure. Breaking-by-the-wheel might take you days to die, pecked by birds, your bones broken by hammers, unless you were given the "blow of mercy" or in French... coup de grâce (COO-deh-GRASS). The idea of what constitutes a merciful death (or whether we should have a death penalty at all) changes as the public's sensibilities change. From a biblical perspective, the death penalty is allowed for certain cases but the court procedures are not defined in the Bible. It has been left to us to decide how evidence is gathered, who may testify and to decide what a person's state of mind was at the time. That offers a lot of leeway. [6]

The New York Stock Exchange and the US Mint are Established

In 1792 if you want to find a stock broker, what do you do? You look for a coffee house. (And if you want to find your Congressman you go to the local tavern. It doesn't have to be pretty. It just has to work.) Currently, the stock brokers have outgrown the old coffee house and they want to buy their own place. So they meet under the buttonwood tree at 68 Wall Street and sign an agreement to open the Tontine Coffee House. (A "tontine' is a type of investment plan.) The agreement they sign is called the Buttonwood Agreement, after the tree. They don't know where this is going, but they start off trading in stock for the First Bank of the United States... an early version of the Federal Reserve. Over the years the Stock Exchange will move several times, sometimes renting, and one time settling into a building until a fire guts the place. In 1817 they will call themselves the 'New York Stock and Exchange Board'. Much later they will shorten it to the New York Stock Exchange. By 1865, they will move into the first of 3 buildings at the site which constitutes their modern location at Wall Street and Broad. [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
In a related subject, the US Coinage Act was passed in 1792 establishing the United States Mint. The silver dollar (filled with 24.057 grams of pure silver) became legal tender, but the copper 1 cent coin was not. Many merchants refused to accept it because it was too bulky. It was almost the size of a half dollar. When you are dealing in metal as a medium of exchange, and you want general equivalence, imagine how much copper it would take to equal the value of silver. As of this writing, 24 grams of silver is equal in value to a little over 6 pounds of copper. That would mean a copper cent should weigh almost an ounce if you want 100 copper coins to equal a silver dollar. You will also need big pockets. [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]

Let There be Light, Heat and High Speed Communication

  • William Murdoch applies gas lighting to his own home. He is using coal-gas (later called town gas) which is a by-product of the coking process. By the 1850s, town gas will be used for cooking and heating too. It will be supplemented with natural gas in the 1890s. Town gas will be replaced by natural gas by the 1960s. [17] [18] [19] [20]
  • The 1st blast furnace in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is built. Significant iron smelting won't start until after the War of 1812 when there will be a serious shortage of refined metal coming from Great Britain. (It will take a while to resume trade after the war.) [21] [22]
  • Semaphore towers allow high speed communication over long distances in France. (These semaphores have large arms with paddles, and they are mechanically manipulated.) Relay stations are set up for longer distances. In less than 20 years the heliograph will be invented (using the sun and mirrors) and the electrical telegraph. We are on our way! [23] [24]

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1792, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Words from History (PDF), Books on Words, Houghton Mifflin. “The best-known example of revolutionary killings came in the wake of the French Revolution of 1789. From late 1792 to mid-1794, the extremists were in control and, under the pressure of invasion from abroad and civil war at home, they struck out blindly at aristocrats and other suspected enemies, guillotining them by the dozen [...] with virtually no trial. This was called the Reign of Terror.” 
  2. September Massacres - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 May 2016. “The September Massacres were an iconic event that to this day divides the supporters and opponents of the Revolution.”
  3. Princess Marie Louise of Savoy - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 May 2016. “After her marriage, which lasted a year, she went to court and became the confidante of Queen Marie Antoinette. She was killed in the massacres of September 1792 during the French Revolution.”
  4. Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette. N.A. Talese/Doubleday. ISBN 038548948X. “Nevertheless, on 29 September, the Queen engaged with Barnave that the Princesse de Lamballe would return, as "a patriotic act and a pledge of her intentions." A month later, in response to her mistress's messages, the faithful Princesse left Aix, and was back in Paris, via a visit to the Duc de Penthièvre, by mid-November. Prudently, she made her will in advance, making provision for charity--the Hotel Dieu--and also the care of her little dogs.” 
  5. Guillotine - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “The guillotine was thus perceived to deliver an immediate death without risk of suffocation. Furthermore, having only one method of civil execution was seen as an expression of equality among citizens. The guillotine was then the only civil legal execution method in France until the abolition of the death penalty in 1981, apart from certain crimes against the security of the state, or for the death sentences passed by military courts, which entailed execution by firing squad.”
  6. Coup de grace - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “A coup de grâce (French for 'blow of mercy') is a death blow to end the suffering of a severely wounded person or animal. It may be a mercy killing of civilians or soldiers, friends or enemies, with or without the sufferer's consent.”
  7. Buttonwood Agreement - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 May 2016. “The Buttonwood Agreement, which took place on May 17, 1792, started the New York Stock & Exchange Board now called the New York Stock Exchange. This agreement was signed by 24 stockbrokers outside of 68 Wall Street New York under a buttonwood tree. The organization drafted its constitution on March 8, 1817, and named itself the 'New York Stock & Exchange Board'. In 1863, this name was shortened to its modern form, the 'New York Stock Exchange'.”
  8. New York Stock Exchange - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 May 2016. “The earliest recorded organization of securities trading in New York among brokers directly dealing with each other can be traced to the Buttonwood Agreement. Previously securities exchange had been intermediated by the auctioneers who also conducted more mundane auctions of commodities such as wheat and tobacco.”
  9. Tontine Coffee House - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 May 2016. “The Tontine Coffee House was a New York City coffee house established in early 1793. Situated on the north-west corner of Wall Street and Water Street, it was built by a group of stockbrokers to serve as a meeting place for trade and correspondence. It was organized as a tontine, a type of investment plan, and funded by the sale of 203 shares of £200 each.[”
  10. New York Stock Exchange - United States Department of the Interior - National Park Service - National register of Historical Places Inventory-Nomination Form (PDF) (1977). Retrieved on 20 May 2016. “Since its inception in 1792, the New York Stock Exchange has occupied a number of locations. It made its headquarters in the Tontine Coffee House until 1817; in rented space at 40 Wall Street from 1817 to 1819; in three temporary locations from 1819 to 1827; in the Merchants' Exchange from 1827 until it was destroyed by fire in 1835...”
  11. Tontine - definition of tontine (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “an annuity scheme by which several subscribers accumulate and invest a common fund out of which they receive an annuity that increases as subscribers die until the last survivor takes the whole”
  12. Bank of New York - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “The Bank of New York was a global financial services company established in 1784 by the American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. It existed until its merger with the Mellon Financial Corporation on July 2, 2007.[1] The company now continues under the new name of The Bank of New York Mellon or BNY Mellon.”
  13. Bank of New York - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “1792: The Bank of New York was the first corporate stock to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange.”
  14. Money in Colonial Times. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia (November 21, 2011). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “The 1792 Coinage Act adopted the decimal system, and combined Alexander Hamilton's idea of a bimetallic standard with Thomas Jefferson's proposal that the dollar be the standard unit of money. The denominations prescribed for silver coins were to be a half dime, dime, quarter dollar, half dollar and dollar. Denominations for gold coins were to be a quarter eagle ($2.50), half eagle ($5), eagle ($10). Congress also provided for the coining of copper cents and half cents but did not give copper legal tender status, therefore copper could be refused as payment.”
  15. 1 Week Copper Prices and Copper Price Charts. InvestmentMine (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “Copper Price 2.08 USD per lb, 19 May 2016”
  16. Spot Silver Price. goldprice.org (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “Spot Silver Price: USD 0.53 per Gram, May 23, 2016 at 07:41 NY Time”
  17. William Murdoch - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  18. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 368-369. 
  19. Gas lighting - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “In the early 1790s, while overseeing the use of his company's steam engines in tin mining in Cornwall, Murdoch began experimenting with various types of gas, finally settling on coal-gas as the most effective. He first lit his own house in Redruth, Cornwall in 1792.”
  20. Coal gasification - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “Historically, coal was gasified using early technology to produce coal gas (also known as 'town gas'), which is a combustible gas traditionally used for municipal lighting and heating before the advent of industrial-scale production of natural gas.”
  21. Results of the War of 1812 - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “The Treaty of Ghent failed to secure official British acknowledgment of American maritime rights, but in the century of peace among the naval powers from 1815 until World War I these rights were not seriously violated. The course of the war made irrelevant all of the issues over which the United States had fought, especially since the First Nations had been defeated and the Americans scored enough victories (especially at New Orleans) to satisfy honor[9] and the sense of becoming fully independent from Britain.”
  22. Pittsburgh - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “The War of 1812 cut off the supply of British goods, stimulating American industry. By 1815, Pittsburgh was producing significant quantities of iron, brass, tin, and glass. On March 18, 1816, the 46-year-old local government became a city.”
  23. Semaphore line - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “The system was invented in 1792 in France by Claude Chappe, and was popular in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century.”
  24. Heliograph - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 May 2016. “The German professor Carl Friedrich Gauss of the University of Göttingen developed and used a predecessor of the heliograph (the heliotrope) in 1821. His device directed a controlled beam of sunlight to a distant station to be used as a marker for geodetic survey work, and was suggested as a means of telegraphic communications. This is the first reliably documented heliographic device, despite much speculation about possible ancient incidents of sun-flash signalling, and the documented existence of other forms of ancient optical telegraphy.”

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