Napoleonic Code


After four years of debate and planning, the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was in charge of drawing up a new legal framework for France, which was known as the “Napoleonic Code” . This code gave post-revolutionary France its first coherent set of laws on property , on different colonial affairs , on the family, and on individual rights . In 1800, General Napoleon Bonaparte, as the new dictator of France, began the arduous task of overhauling France’s outdated and confusing legal system by means of a special commission., led by JJ Cambaceres , who met to discuss the revolutionary legal revisions together with Napoleon and in March 1804 , the Napoleonic Code was finally approved.

What is the Napoleonic Code?

It is a civil code was a code made under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte that produced an important political change in the history of Europe , with consequences that are still observed today.

  • What does it consist of
  • Characteristics of the Napoleonic Code
  • Story
  • Civil Code
  • Commercial Code
  • Importance of the Napoleonic Code
  • Influence of the Napoleonic Code

What does it consist of

The Napoleonic Code consisted of a series of rules in which various branches of law were codified, including commercial and criminal law , and also divided civil law into various categories related to property and family . The Napoleonic Code was in charge of transforming the authority of men over their families transformed women into stronger people and kept them from remaining deprived of any individual rights , in addition to reducing the rights of illegitimate children. All male citizens were also granted the same rights under the law and the right toreligious dissent , but colonial slavery was reintroduced . The laws applied to all territories that were under Napoleon’s control.


The method that was used to write the code was based mainly on the Institutes of Justinian , and the rights of people , things , and actions were divided . They sought to achieve the same laws for the French provinces . They wanted to eliminate the legislative disorder where the laws were born from human reason .

Characteristics of the Napoleonic Code

The main characteristics of the Napoleonic Code are the following:

  • Unity of law : this must be applied equally.
  • Unity of the source : a single authority decrees laws and the courts interpret laws.
  • Independence of law : separates the three powers.
  • Evolution of law : law adapts to ways of thinking.
  • Specificity of codes : a code of law for a branch of civil law.
  • Principle of secularism: civil law must be for all religions.
  • Validation of laws : laws cannot be applied until they are promulgated, published and known.
  • Written nature of the law : the law must be written and clear.
  • Individuality of the property : the real property is individual.
  • Freedom of work : unions were eliminated and contracts were of free will.
  • Marriage : paternal authority is given, the woman depends on the husband and divorce is authorized for specific reasons.
  • Inheritances : they had to be divided equally and not only for the male child.


The history of the Napoleonic Code dates back to the end of the 18th century , when Prussia issued the Prussian Code of General Law of 1794. The code was born as a product of the illustration and contained aspects related to private law and public law . It arose because the French had the need to create a code to consolidate the principles proclaimed by themselves. Napoleon Bonaparte was in charge of drafting and issuing a new civil code with the help of a commission of jurists.

Civil Code

The civil code was structured in legislativism , international responsibility of powers, holding congresses in search of solutions to conflicts of an international nature and intervention. Napoleon Bonaparte was the one who was in charge of its codification , registration and evaluation . The civil code spoke of individual freedom , freedom of work , freedom of conscience and about the feudal regime.

Commercial Code

Napoleon also dedicated himself to forming the Commercial Code , and this was promulgated, after being approved by the Legislative Chamber , on September 15, 1807. He was looking for a way to put order to the rules that administered the obligations that merchants had and acts of commerce . The Code was improved in 1774 through the Hue Miromesnil project , which sought to unite jurisprudential criteria and more modern commercial practices . Some time later, rules for maritime trade were issuedand these projects were the antecedents of the Commercial Code of 1807, which brought together the rules of maritime and land trade .

Importance of the Napoleonic Code

Through the Napoleonic Code , the revolutionary spirit of the bourgeoisie was consolidated . There was economic and personal freedom , equality of individuals before the law, individual character of property , civil marriage and divorce . The State happened with him to have a secular character and the religious laws could not participate or interfere within the state territory; making this situation the proof of the definitive separation between the Church and the State . There was also a guarantee for commercial exchangesand as another important aspect, legislation was established that facilitated economic freedom . It was important because a series of norms arose that were in charge of abolishing the Old regime , giving way to a new society that we can observe today, and what we know by the name of contemporaneity .

Influence of the Napoleonic Code

The French or Napoleonic Civil Code achieved a very rapid influence, it is quickly imposed by the right of conquest that the expansion of the Napoleonic empire had . This code was adopted by Belgium , Luxembourg , and managed to spread to the Netherlands , Italy , Poland and Germany . French colonial policy, in Canada, Louisiana, Africa, and the Middle East also influenced its diffusion .

In Latin America managed to reach some codes and code achieved an influence evident in places like Chile , 1885, or the draft Freitas for Brazil in 1859. In the Argentine code in 1869, the work of Palacio Vélez Sarsfield still remains in effect.

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