Code Napoleon

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Code Napoléon (kôd näpôlāôN´) or Code Civil (sēvēl´), first modern legal code of France, promulgated by Napoleon I in 1804. The work of J. J. Cambacérès and a commission of four appointed by Napoleon I in 1800 was important in making the final draft. The Code Napoléon embodied the private law of France (i.e., law regulating relations between individuals) and, as modified by amendments, it is still in force in that country. It is a revised form of the Roman law, i.e., the civil law, which prevailed generally on the Continent. It shows, of course, many specific French modifications, some based on the Germanic law that had been in effect in N France. The code follows the Institutes of the Roman Corpus Juris Civilis in dividing civil law into personal status (e.g., marriage), property (e.g., easements), and the acquisition of property (e.g., wills), and it may be regarded as the first modern analogue to the Roman work. Not only was it applied by Napoleon to the territories under his control—N Italy, the Low Countries, and some of the German states—but it exerted a strong influence on Spain (and ultimately on the Latin American countries) and on all European countries except England. It was the forerunner, in France and elsewhere, of codifications of the other branches of law, including civil procedure, commercial law, and criminal law. Quebec prov. and the state of Louisiana owe much of their law to the Code Napoléon. In addition to the Code Civil, Napoleon was responsible for four other codes: the Code of Civil Procedure (1807), Commercial Code (1808), Code of Criminal Procedure (1811), and the Penal Code (1811).

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CODE NAPOLÉON. Among the most important post revolutionary reforms in France was the unification and simplification of the French laws, prepared under Napoleon Bonaparte's direction and promulgated in 1804 as the French civil code, commonly called the Code Napoléon. It served as the model for the digest of the civil laws of Orleans Territory, promulgated in 1808 and commonly called the Old Louisiana Code, which, revised and amended in 1825, 1870, and 1974 as the civil code of Louisiana, remains today the basic law of the state of Louisiana. Louisiana is unique among the states in that its legal system is based on Roman civil law, not common law.


Drago, George. Jefferson's Louisiana: Politics and the Clash of Legal Traditions. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975.

Haas, Edward F., ed. Louisiana's Legal Heritage. Pensacola, Fla.: Perdido Bay Press, 1983.

WalterPrichard/t. m.

See alsoCommon Law ; Orleans, Territory of ; State Constitutions .

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Code Napoléon French civil law, first introduced (1804) by Napoleon I. Based on Roman law, the Code was intended to end the disunity of French law and was applied to all French territories. It banned social inequality, permitted freedom of person and contract and upheld the right to own private property. It was revised in 1904 and remains the basis of French civil law.

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Code Napoléon the French legal code drawn up under Napoleon I in 1804.