Wikipedia is very sketchy and hazy on this subject:

By his conduct as a member of the Convention, Fourcroy has been accused of contributing to Lavoisier's death. Baron Cuvier, in his Eloge historique of Fourcroy, repelled such charges. The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition says that although active, though secret, participation cannot be proved against Fourcroy, he can scarcely be acquitted of time-serving indifference. See the works in the Bibliography below for other opinions.

  • The question is interesting, considering Lavoisier's prominence as a scientist. However, Lavoisier was swept up near the height of the Terror, when no man was safe, and, as Carlyle puts it: "each man feels his head if it yet stick on his shoulders." So IMO it is difficult to find fault with anyone who failed to rise to the defense of someone who was decreed "Suspect" in those days: Defending someone decreed "Suspect" made you yourself "Suspect". Entire families were guillotined simply because of their family ties to someone decreed "Suspect"-that alone made them "Suspect" as well. – user2590 Jul 16 '13 at 18:07
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    @Histophile Generally speaking, you are right. But there are two important special circumstances here: (a) I have seen, at fourth hand, allegations that Fourcroy had actually taken an active part in Lavoisier's arrest and execution. (As kmlawson's diligent research shows, this claim was probably put into circulation by E. Grimaux). If true, this paints Fourcroy's behaviour in a very bad light. But then, it might be the other way around, and perhaps F. actually tried to save L. (as other sources found by kmlawson suggest). (2) Lavoisier was F.'s teacher and apparently a close friend. – Felix Goldberg Jul 17 '13 at 9:12
  • @Histophile Btw, were there really cases of entire families executed because of ties to suspect persons? – Felix Goldberg Jul 17 '13 at 9:15
  • I wonder why the downvote... – Felix Goldberg Jul 17 '13 at 15:02
  • @FelixGoldberg-I did not down-vote. I rarely down-vote and if I do, I explain why. I see no reason to down-vote this question. "were there really cases of entire families..." Carlyle names several families to whom that occurred-he is not a primary source but he did read the primary sources and refers to them and he was close to the period. (There are reservations about some of his accounts). 'Guilt by association' was the rule of the day, and a lot of it was pecuniary:If you were guillotined, all your property reverted to the state, and they needed money! Guillotine a big rich family? KaChing! – user2590 Jul 17 '13 at 16:05

I found contradictory information on this. A biography of Lavoisier which only suggests that Fourcroy failed to step up in his defense when he most needed it. See:

Jean Pierre Poirier Lavoisier: Chemist, Biologist, Economist On Google Books

On p367 in the chapter "The Arrest"

These interventions [on Lavoisier's behalf to counter the charges against him] belie the claim that Lavoisier was simply abandoned by his colleagues and that nothing was done to try to save him. It is no less true, however, that the four men, Monge, Hassenfratz, Guyton de Morveau, and Fourcroy, who were best placed to rescue him, since they belonged to the majority of the Convention, did not speak up in his favor.

Emphasis mine.

Prior to this though, p336 refers to the continued interaction up to the arrest though "even if their political convictions separate them," but later notes that "Fourcroy insisted on a purge to get rid of the counter-revolutionaries, the emigrés, and all those whom public opinion rejected" even if others that might fit Lavoisier's description, that could make "the Lycée républicain a new and regenerated institution" should be spared.

There were other occasions when Fourcroy did have a role in someone's release, as in the case of Vandermonde, arrested for corruption, and Vandermonde was subsequently released (p332).

However, elsewhere, there is a claim that Fourcroy "pleaded for Lavoisier's life":

Arthur Donavan Antoine Lavoisier: Science, Administration and Revolution On Google Books

On p295-6 chapter on "Revolutionary Politics":

When Fourcroy heard that the tax farmers were to be arrainged before the Revolutionary Tribunal, he boldly pleaded for Lavoisier's life before the Committee on Public Safety, of which he was not a member. Robespierre heard him out without comment and Fourcroy, whose own life was in danger, was unable to prevent what had become inevitable."

Emphasis mine

This claim of an "unsuccessful last-minute appeal" is also made here:

Encyclopedia.com Entry for Fourcroy

The refutation by Baron Cuvier mentioned on Wikipedia can be found in:

Sarah Lee ed. Memoirs of Baron Cuvier On Google Books


It was reported that he might have saved the life of M. Lavoisier during the reign of terror, as indeed he had saved many by his influence; but, at the moment of M. Lavoisier's arrest, his own life was threatened, and all power of being useful to others was taken from him...

Another source on this is:

Denis I. Duveen "Lavoisier Writes to Fourcroy from Prison" p59 On Jstor

[Lavoisier's] standard biograph, Edouard Grimaux...strongly condemned Fourcroy for allowing Lavoisier to be sent to the guillotine and implies that, possibly motivated by jealousy, he may have helped to speed himon his way. Modern scholars are inclined to be the opinion that Grimaux maligned Fourcroy unjustifiably. The charge, however, was evidently current shortly after Lavoisier's death, for in a speech delivered only two years after the lamentable event Fourcroy felt constrained to defend himself against and accusation which was to haunt him for the rest of his days and pursue him from his own death until the present day.

Emphasis Mine

It then quotes a letter from Lavoisier to Fourcroy from prison in French, which unfortunately I don't read but publisher of the letter doesn't conclude in a way that suggests that it settles the controversy.

Charles Coulston Gillispie Science and Polity in France: The End of the Old Regime On Google Books

An unpublished memoir by André Laugier, a cousin, gives more detail [on Fourcroy's attempt to save Lavoisier]...on one of the two days that the farmers general languished in the Conciergerie, Fourcroy burst into the room in the Pavillon de Flore where the Committee of Public Safety was meeting...set forth in a passionate and eloquent manner what an appalling loss to science Lavoisier's death would entail...but Robespierre's reaction afterward was so menacing that Prieur followed him to the corridor and warned him never to say more if he valued his head. [Sourced to: "Notice sur Fourcroy, écrite par une personne de sa famille" in hands of Cuvier and found in Bibliothèque de l'Institut de France, Fonds Cuvier, Carton 1, dossier 191]

Emphasis Mine

This Laugier account is repeated in Madison Smartt Bell Lavoisier in the Year One p182 On Google Books

  • Interesting. To me Baron Cuvier's regutation doesn't feel very strong. Was F.'s life really in danger? – Felix Goldberg Jul 16 '13 at 11:27
  • Good question...I don't have access to his biographies. I updated the above with what I found. The danger to his life mentioned by Cuvier may merely trace to an account by Fourcroy's cousin André Laugier and thus may be partial and suspect. Perhaps more in: Chemistry, Pharmacy And Revolution in France or in Fourcroy: Chemist and Revolutionary, 1755-1809. – kmlawson Jul 16 '13 at 12:53
  • Again a partial source, but article abstracted from Fourcroy's eulogy also repeats claim that, from his election to convention, up to 1794, his life was in danger and that, he "had prudence enough not to open his mouth in the Convention till after the death of Robespierre" jstor.org/stable/30075443?seq=3 – kmlawson Jul 16 '13 at 13:04
  • Another interesting find but it's not an independent source - check out who delivered the eulogy... :) – Felix Goldberg Jul 16 '13 at 16:30
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    The new Laugier source is starting to tip the scales, in my opinion, in favour of a positive evaluation of F.'s role (although it's also somehow connected to Cuvier, but that doesn't seem to have affected its content, only the provenance). – Felix Goldberg Jul 17 '13 at 9:07

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