//The Napoleonic Code

The Napoleonic Code

The French civil code, better known as the Napoleonic code, is one of the great contributions of French law to universal law. This code is among the best known and studied in the world. Its influence is reflected in all the civil codes of Europe, after its publication, and even in the codes of Latin America.

Napoleon was not only a military genius, but he was also a visionary when it came to law. To achieve the great changes his country needed, he devised total legal change by dismantling the monarchy. In this way the monarchical institutions would not be transformed and adapted but would become extinct.

Napoleon had in his mind to carry forward a civilizing and unifying project of the West. For this, it needed a single egalitarian legal framework that governed everywhere equally, something that did not exist in France at the time. In this way he had a great military project and a great transformative project of society. This project, the Napoleonic code, would become his true universal legacy.

The Napoleonic code is in force in France today, although it has undergone many changes to adapt to modern times. Due to its great influence and validity today, we will know more about the Napoleonic code or Napoleonic code. Let’s get started.

Background to the Napoleonic Code

Throughout history the elaboration of normative bodies has had a great evolution. Some attempts to make an all-inclusive body of law have not had a rational and organic organization.

That is why Napoleon entrusted the task of developing his Napoleonic code to a group of doctors in law who were not only responsible for compiling all the necessary rules, but also giving them a natural organization.

But to get there, the law has gone through different stages that ended at the codification stage. The different stages through which the law passed were that of customary law, that of compilations and that of codification. Below we will detail each of them.

Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte

Customary law

It was the first source of law and is based on social traditions and customs. Rules that are transmitted in writing or orally. This origin in customs means that they have no structure and that they can lend themselves to interpretations. In this first form, oral law meant that access to the right was limited to its connoisseurs or to those who could afford a specialist.

With the passage to writing these codes were available to people to be studied and used. In addition, its written character gave it a greater immutability and therefore could not be manipulated. Here we can find the established laws that later formed the Hammurabi code. However, at that time they were scattered, and the Hammurabi code did was collect them, which brings us to our next source.

The compilation of laws

As societies become more complex, so do laws. Therefore, the law was composed of scattered laws that sometimes overlapped creating contradictions and problems. It therefore became necessary to create compilations of laws to give it coherence and avoid such contradictions. Sometimes the compilations ended up mixing all kinds of rights such as civil with criminal and administrative. Thus, were born the following compilations of laws:

  • Hammurabi code decreed by King Hammurabi.
  • The law of the twelve tables: It was the law established to eliminate the privileges of the patricians (descendants of the founders of Rome) in ancient Rome and is one of the first to group the regulations by theme. However, they did not include all the legal rules because some were over-understood.
  • Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis: This approached code consideration. However, it was constituted in a compilation because it included legal norms without validity. In addition, it included philosophical elements on the source of law and quotations from classical judges. A scholarly compilation of Roman law and its sources.

Codification of the law

The codification of the law seeks to reflect only the sources of legality and rules in force in an organized and systematic manner. It is the body of laws organized in a systematic, organic and harmonious way. The Napoleonic code became one of the most influential sources of law thanks to its use of the codification of law. In this way the law is organized to maintain coherence in its normative body.

The French Civil Code, better known as the Naopoleonic Code
The French Civil Code, better known as the Naopoleonic Code

Justification for Napoleonic code creation

The Napoleonic code was constituted due to several needs arising from the French revolution. These two main needs were:

  • The need to eliminate or undermine the institutions that supported a monarchical society.
  • The need to have a single body of law that would guarantee the stability of the country in the face of the expansionist project that it proposed.

Napoleon’s intention was to bring his idea of individual rights to everyone, or at least half. For Napoleon there should only be two empires, the east and the west. Napoleon was determined to be the head of the Western empire and to take the idea of a free society to every corner.

Undoubtedly a laudable project but that when carried out militarily generated the rejection of “collectivist” societies. Waterloo eventually curbed his civilizing intent, but he still left a historical mark through the Napoleonic code and the legal codes of liberal Europe.

Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte

Freedom of trade: Elimination of guilds and monitoring of the legality of loans to fight against usurers

This part of the legislation ensured that each individual could exercise his or her economic activity without limitations of any kind. Under the monarchy, bureaucratic structures were established that did not only serve to associate in terms of a common welfare. These institutions legislated on rights in respect of the exercise of an activity.

In this way a person could not exercise a trade if he was not affiliated and did not comply with the rules imposed by the guild. This could have to do with the demand for a minimum wage for a job. But it was also a way of avoiding competition, limiting the right to do so and artificially reducing the supply of labour.

Limits were also set on loans to prevent usury and for this to obstruct economic freedom. A loan on usury was seen as a threat to free enterprise and free trade. How could you exercise the freedom of trade if you were “slave” to a loan under conditions of usury?

Trade unions have a positive side in fighting for safe working conditions and living wages. But at the same time, many trade union associations also stipulate dues for unionized workers on infrastructure works. This can also be seen in other sectors.

That unions have the power to guide the workers you have to hire violates the freedom to do business. This contrasts some aspects of freedom of enterprise against freedom of association. This is one of the contradictions between society and individual that will always be present in history.

The French revolution prioritized the individual and the communist revolution prioritized society. These are impulses that are constantly struggling throughout history.

Napoleonic Code
Napoleonic Code

Effects of changes in French legality through the Napoleonic code

All these changes dismantled the economic and social foundations of the monarchical system. This transformed French society, eliminating the privileges that “rode” on the pretext of the “common interest.”

The Napoleonic code defined not only the way in which the legal bodies of the world would be established, but also the foundations of human rights and urged respect for individual rights and equality in the face of the imposition of society.

These are aspects that Gustavo Mirabal has always admired about the French revolution and its changes. Changes that ultimately created the modern society in which we live, and which guarantees the rights of every human being.