Livingston Codes

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Livingston Codes

Livingston Codes, a set of civil penal reform codes written by U.S. lawyer and statesman Edward Livingston in the 1820s and later adopted by Guatemala. Written for Louisiana, that state rejected his System of Penal Law in 1826. When Livingston became Andrew Jackson's secretary of state in 1831, he offered the codes to Guatemala's liberal governor, José Francisco Barrundia, who viewed it as a needed replacement for his country's Hispanic criminal code. With the help of Barrundia's active advocacy in the legislature, the codes were adopted by Guatemala in December 1835 during the administration of Governor Mariano Gálvez. They went into effect on 1 January 1836.

The Livingston Codes provided trial by jury, habeas corpus, and jails with separate cells; they also vested the appointment of all judges in the governors of the various states within Guatemala. Despite their progressive nature, they proved to be impractical for Guatemala and quickly resulted in the alienation of a number of sectors of Guatemalan society, in particular attorneys and rural peasants who were conscripted into forced labor gangs to construct new jails. Trial by jury proved impractical, especially in rural areas, and the change in the appointment system of judges alienated powerful landed interests. The association of the Livingston Codes with centralization efforts of the Liberals in Guatemala City also aroused opposition to them. Rafael Carrera demanded the abolition of the Livingston Codes during his 1837 rebellion, and after he gained power the codes were repealed in 1839.

See alsoCarrera, José Rafael .


Mario Rodríguez, "The Livingston Codes in the Guatemalan Crisis of 1837–1838," in Applied Enlightenment: Nineteenth Century Liberalism, Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, Publication 23, no. 1 (1972), pp. 1-32, is the best source for this topic. On the origins of the codes, see Grant Lyons, "Louisana and the Livingston Criminal Codes," in Louisiana History 15 (1974): 243-272, and Ira Flory, Jr., "Edward Livingston's Place in Louisana Law," in Louisiana Historical Quarterly 19 (1936): 328-389. For the resistance to the codes, see Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., Rafael Carrera and the Emergence of the Republic of Guatemala, 1821–1871 (1993), pp. 53-83.

Additional Bibliography

Woodward, Ralph Lee. Rafael Carrera and the Emergence of the Republic of Guatemala, 1821–1871. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.

                                   Heather K. Thiessen

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Livingston Codes

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