Napoleonic Code

Napoleonic Code:

Napoleon’s most significant work of permanent nature was the compilation of civil laws. Prior to the Revolution, France had many laws in force which had mutual contradictions and discrepancies. The National Council assigned the task of drafting a new constitution for France to a committee but no creative work could be done due to internal revolt, bloodshed, and foreign invasions. Napoleon paid his attention to this task and got a Code of Laws prepared. It is known as “Napoleon’s Code of Laws”. The Code of Laws comprises five types of laws such as (1) Civil Code, (2) Code of Civil Procedure, (3) Penal Code, (4) Code of Criminal Procedure, and (5) Commercial Code.

Napoleon took a personal interest in the preparation of the Code of Laws and it was drafted according to his will. There was nothing new in the Code of Law, but its presentation gave a new form to French laws. Multifarious laws enacted prior to and during the period of the Revolution were annulled. New laws assimilated old as well as radical laws. In the body of new laws, drawbacks of old laws were removed and new as well as advantageous laws relating to the period of Revolution were given appropriate room. Arrangements were made that the jury should hear a case in open court. The principle of equality before the law as propagated during the Revolution was accepted. Thus feudal laws and privileges were abolished. The law relating to the right of primogeniture was annulled and every son was given equal rights over the property. Marriage was accepted as a holy and permanent bond. According to the Code, Napoleon held the family as a holy unit. Father was assigned the highest place in the family. Napoleon gave more importance to men than to women. Women were completely subordinate to their husbands. Despite strong protests by the Catholics, Napoleon acceded to Civil marriage and divorce. The principle of private property was recognized and the ownership rights were consolidated as never before. Forever farmers were redeemed from the apprehension of losing their land. Therefore, farmers became staunch supporters of Napoleon. In the code of law, the capitalist economy was protected and in conjunction with it, various sub-clauses relating to contract, loan, lease, and stockholding companies were also introduced. Private property could be appropriated by the government only after the payment of suitable compensation. The rate of interest was fixed. Restrictions were imposed upon trade unions. In the matter of contention between the landlord (owner) and worker, courts were directed to give preference to the interests of owners rather than those of workers, although such directions violated the principle of equality enshrined in the Code.

Napoleon’s Code of Law proved to be his permanent achievement. Even today, at the time of solemnizing the recognized “Civil Marriage” the bridegroom and the bride have to take an oath according to the sections of Napoleon’s Code. Pointing out the importance of the Code of Law, Napoleon himself once said at St. Helena, “My real glory does not lie in the victories in forty wars; my code of laws is the only thing which will prove of eternal and permanent value”. As a matter of fact, his Code of Law is more significant than all his victories. Noted historian Fisher has stated, “The Code of law may be incomplete in some way but it is good and if it had not been accomplished then, France would have to do without a Code. The principle of equality incorporated in it is far better than the provision of privileges. The Code of Law presents an outline of a cultured society and strikes a compromise between numerous laws enacted during the period of the Revolution and old permanent conventions. It is a liberal and democratic document. Its importance in history lies in the fact that it codifies in black and white all those vast social reforms whose wave swept over Europe after the French Revolution”. Although Napoleon was not trained in law, the Code of Law is a glaring example of his legislative talent. Noted historian C. D. M. Kettleby has stated, “That Code was based not on principles but on common sense and experience. It did not contain any political or religious bias. It guaranteed religious tolerance and equality and sanctioned civil marriage and divorce. On the other hand, it provided security to the values of family life, paternal supremacy, and private property.” Napoleon’s Code of Law may be incomplete or brief but the proof of its popularity lies in that it has been adopted outside Europe also.

Important Links:

Intellectual Enlightenment
Political Causes of the French Revolution
Economic Causes of the French Revolution
Beginning of the French Revolution
Functions of the Constituent Assembly
Unsuccessful Attempt of the Royal Family to Flee the Country
Phases of the French Revolution
Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution
Nature of the French Revolution
Correlation Between the Objectives and Achievements of the French Revolution
Do you agree that the French Revolution achieved far less than what it intended to achieve?
Importance of the French Revolution
French Revolution of 1848
The Foreign Policy of Louis Philippe
Causes of the Revolution of February 1848
Napoleon Ascendency
Consulate Rule and Constitution of 1799
Napoleon Concord With Pope
Napoleonic Code
The United States and the French Revolution, 1789–1799