Antoine de Lavoisier

antoine lavoisierAntoine 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. Lavoisier was largely apolitical and showed little interest in the events of the revolution – but he had profited from the Ancien Régime as a prominent fermier-généraux (‘tax-farmer’), which aroused 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 averse to matters of politics, Lavoisier was arrested, tried and executed during the Reign of Terror.

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