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24 February, 22:47

What was the Napoleonic Code? Why was it important?

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  1. 24 February, 23:45
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    Napoleon Bonaparte gave this civil code to post-revolutionary France, its first coherent set of laws concerning property, colonial affairs, the family, and individual rights. On March 21 1804, the Napoleonic Code was finally approved. It codified several branches of law, including commercial and criminal law, and divided civil law into categories of property and family. The Napoleonic Code made the authority of men over their families stronger, deprived women of any individual rights, and reduced the rights of illegitimate children. All male citizens were also granted equal rights under the law and the right to religious dissent, but colonial slavery was reintroduced. The laws were applied to all territories under Napoleon's control and were influential in several other European countries and in South America, including the State of Louisiana. Remember the Louisiana purchase, the USofA also bought Napi's code (for the State at least). The demand for codification and, indeed, codification itself preceded the Napoleonic era (1799-1815). Diversity of laws was the dominant characteristic of the prerevolutionary legal order. Roman law governed in the south of France, whereas in the northern provinces, including Paris, a customary law had developed, based largely on feudal Frankish and Germanic institutions. Marriage and family life were almost exclusively within the control of the Roman Catholic Church and governed by canon law. In addition, starting in the 16th century, a growing number of matters were governed by royal decrees and ordinances as well as by a case law developed by the parlements. The situation inspired Voltaire to observe that a traveler in France "changes his law almost as often as he changes his horses." Each area had its own collection of customs, and, despite efforts in the 16th and 17th centuries to organize and codify each of those local customary laws, there had been little success at national unification. Vested interests blocked efforts at codification, because reform would encroach upon their privileges. After the French Revolution, codification became not only possible but almost necessary. Powerful groups such as the manors and the guilds had been destroyed; the secular power of the church had been suppressed; and the provinces had been transformed into subdivisions of the new national state. Political unification was paired with a growing national consciousness, which, in turn, demanded a new body of law that would be uniform for the entire state. The Napoleonic Code, therefore, was founded on the premise that, for the first time in history, a purely rational law should be created, free from all past prejudices and deriving its content from "sublimated common sense"; its moral justification was to be found not in ancient custom or monarchical paternalism but in its conformity to the dictates of reason. Giving expression to those beliefs and to the needs of the revolutionary government, the National Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution on September 4, 1791, providing that "there shall be a code of civil laws common for the entire realm." Further steps toward the actual drafting of a civil code, however, were first taken by the National Convention in 1793, which established a special commission headed by Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès, duke de Parme, and charged it with the task of completing the project within a month. That commission prepared within six weeks of its creation a draft code consisting of 719 articles. Though truly revolutionary in both intent and content, the draft was rejected by the convention on the grounds that it was too technical and detailed to be easily understood by all citizens. A second, much-shorter, draft of 297 articles was offered in 1794, but it was little debated and had no success. Cambacérès's persistent efforts produced a third draft (1796), containing 500 articles, but it was equally ill-fated ...
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