- Napoleonic Code
- Established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804, the Napoleonic Code became the foundation of the French legal system. The adoption of the French Civil Code ( Code civil des Français ), popularly called the Code Napoléon, realized a goal of the French Revolution. Formulated in 84 sessions of the Council of State, many of which were presided over by Napoleon himself, the code ended the chaotic and complicated legal system that had developed in France since Roman times and with it much of the freedom of judges to rule creatively in cases. The code was composed of 2,281 articles covering civil rights and duties, marriage, divorce, the mutual obligations of parents and children, and the division of property among children of a family. Later, other articles were added dealing with civil procedure, commerce, criminal justice, and penal standards. Judges became part of a tribunal system and applied the code in an administrative manner. The new system was hailed as a great achievement at the time, because it curtailed judicial power and elevated legislative power as representative of the people. The legal system was greatly simplified and made intelligible to the average person. The code’s simplified and “rational” character was also favored by advocates of rule by reason.Napoleon favored a uniform system of law for his empire, so the code was imposed on much of the territory he conquered, especially Italy, southern and central Germany, and the Duchy of Warsaw. It was also exported to French colonies, former French colonies, and to the former Spanish colonies in South America. Its administration made judges judicial bureaucrats and placed the weight of the law on the side of the State. Authoritarian governments found it useful for exercising a tighter control over the people than was the case in the Anglo-Saxon Common Law system. In North America, the code was adopted in Louisiana in 1821 and in Québec in 1866.See also <
>.FURTHER READING:Martin, Xavier. Human Nature and the French Revolution: From the Enlightenment to the Napoleonic Code . New York: Berghahn Books, 2001;Rose, J. Holland. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Era, 1789–1815 . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935;Young, Brian J. The Politics of Codification: The Lower Canadian Civil Code of 1866 . Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994.ANDREW J. WASKEY
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.