"If the guillotine, as applied to officeholders, were a literal fact, instead of one of the most apt of metaphors"

Woodcut from the Boston Post, 14 June 1849
Public DomainWoodcut from the Boston Post, 14 June 1849 - Credit: Boston Post
Creative Commons AttributionGuillotine - Credit: en-shahdi
This metaphor received a liberal airing not only in Hawthorne’s own writings but in the press also. The Democratic papers used the guillotine’s association with the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror to figure the toppling of Polk’s administration as an act of political insurgence, with the Boston Post running a cartoon of an unfortunate official being dragged to a guillotine presided over by Zachary Taylor. Letters of reaction showed that readers associated this figure specifically with Hawthorne, with one declaring, “The head of the poet and the scholar is stricken off to gratify and reward some greedy partisan!” 

Below is an amateur video of the last public beheading, from 1939.