Napoloen Bonaparte's Civil Code

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Napoleon in later life considered the Civil Code to be the most significant of his achievements. The Code represented a comprehensive reformation and codification of the French civil laws. Under the ancien regime more than 400 codes of laws were in place in various parts of France, with common law predominating in the north and Roman law in the south. The Revolution overturned many of these laws. In addition, the revolutionary governments had enacted more than 14,000 pieces of legislation. Five attempts were made to codify the new laws of France during the periods of the National Convention and the Directory. Through the efforts of Napoleon the drafting the new Civil Code in an expert commission, in which Jean-Etienne-Marie Portalis took a leading role, took place in the second half of 1801. Napoleon attended in person 36 of the commission's 87 meetings. Although the draft was completed at the end of 1801, the Code was not published until 21 March 1804.

The Civil Code represents a typically Napoleonic mix of liberalism and conservatism, although most of the basic revolutionary gains - equality before the law, freedom of religion and the abolition of feudalism - were consolidated within its laws. Property rights, including the rights of the purchasers of the biens nationaux were made absolute. The Code also reinforced patriarchal power by making the husband the ruler of the household. The Napoleonic Code was to be promulgated, with modifications, throughout the Empire. The Civil Code was followed by a Code of Civil Procedure in 1806, a Commercial Code in 1807, a Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure in 1808 and a Penal Code in 1810. A Rural Code was debated, but never promulgated. The Code Napoleon, renamed the Civil Code, was retained in its majority after the restoration of the Bourbons in 1815. The Civil Code has served as the model for the codes of law of more than twenty nations throughout the world.