Antoine de Lavoisier

lavoisierAntoine de Lavoisier (1743-1794) was, at the time of the revolution, France’s leading scientific mind. Born in Paris, Lavoisier graduated as a lawyer and for a time headed one of France’s largest ‘tax farming’ companies. But his family’s wealth allowed Lavoisier to shed these obligations and pursue his interest in scientific research, particularly in chemistry. Among Lavoisier’s many findings was that hydrogen and oxygen were separate elements. He also contributed to the nation’s army by developing new and improved types of gunpowder, and recommending the military use of balloons. By the late 1780s Lavoisier was being described as ‘the French Benjamin Franklin’, a testimony to his achievements and the regard in which he was held by other scientists. But Lavoisier’s disinterest in political and revolutionary events, along with his history of ‘tax farming’ for the ancien regime, roused suspicion among radicals. By the early 1790s Lavoisier was being singled out for rumours and personal attacks, mainly by Jean-Paul Marat. Despite being largely apolitical, Lavoisier was arrested, tried and executed at the height of the Terror.

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