The Napoleon Code (Civil Code).
The Civil Code was introduced by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century and changed the political lives of all the states of continental Europe.
The new Code introduced the concept of a unified, logical system based on general principles of law, thereby exporting the ideas of the French Revolution beyond French borders, to enemies and allies alike.
Decreed 5th of March, 1803
Article 1. The laws are executory throughout the whole French territory, by virtue of the promulgation thereof made by the first consul.
They shall be executed in every part of the republic, from the moment at which their promulgation can have been known.
The promulgation made by the first consul shall be taken to be known in the department which shall be the seat of government one day after the promulgation; and in each of the other departments, after the expiration of the same interval augmented by one day for every ten myriameters between the town in which the promulgation shall have been made, and the chief place of each department.
The Codes final draft was divided into three main sections (Of Persons, Of Property and Different Modifications of Property, Of the Different Modes of Acquiring Property) and contained a total of 2,287 articles. It was issued as the French Civil Code in 1804.
The Need for a Code of Laws
Frances need for a single, unified code of laws had been keenly felt even before the collapse of the ancien regime. Southern France had inherited Roman law, northern France was ruled by a system based on Teutonic customary law. The two systems were fundamentally different. The laws differed not only from province to province but from town to town. Nor were the laws always rational. Louis XIV, the Sun King, had summed up his approach to lawmaking with his famous phrase It is legal because I wish it.
Prior to the French Revolution, laws based on the monarchs wish were the standard custom throughout continental Europe.
Lasting Effects of the Code
Despite some elements of French cultural imperialism within the Code, such as article eight, which states Every Frenchman shall enjoy civil rights, most of the tenets of the Code could be easily exported beyond French borders. Under Napoleons leadership, the Empire of the French extended its influence over most of continental Europe. Whereas some areas, such as the Low Countries, Switzerland, Dalmatia, northern Italy and western Germany were annexed to France, other countries were made client states or French allies.
Feudalism, the system of financial and judicial privileges under which most of continental Europe had existed for centuries, was near universal at the beginning of Napoleons reign, and practically non-existent at the end.
Within France itself, the Code survived virtually unaltered for more than 150 years, and even today has not been fundamentally changed. In many ways, the Code was the most enduring legacy of the French Revolution.
The Civil Code in Canada
The Quebec Act (1774) established that property and civil rights were to be resolved by reference to the French law that had been in force. The Quebec Act also established that for criminal law, the law of England would apply.
Quebec later adopted the Civil Code, except for criminal law, and the Code is still in effect in Quebec today.