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The guillotine is a device developed by Doctor Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a French physician as a humane device for execution.

It became the symbol of the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution when the Jacobins and the mob (mostly sans culottes) seized the government and through Committees of Public Safety drew up lists of people for execution. The radical leader of the Jacobins, Maximilien Robespierre, saw "swift, severe, indomitable justice" exacted against the enemies of the people as the only way to preserve the revolution and be "the Salvation of the People."