March 21

This Day in History

General Interest

Mar 21, 1804:

Napoleonic Code approved in France

After four years of debate and planning, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte enacts a new legal framework for France, known as the "Napoleonic Code." The civil code gave post-revolutionary France its first coherent set of laws concerning property, colonial affairs, the family, and individual rights.

In 1800, General Napoleon Bonaparte, as the new dictator of France, began the arduous task of revising France's outdated and muddled legal system. He established a special commission, led by J.J. Cambaceres, which met more than 80 times to discuss the revolutionary legal revisions, and Napoleon presided over nearly half of these sessions. In March 1804, the Napoleonic Code was finally approved.

It codified several branches of law, including commercial and criminal law, and divided civil law into categories of property and family. The Napoleonic Code made the authority of men over their families stronger, deprived women of any individual rights, and reduced the rights of illegitimate children. All male citizens were also granted equal rights under the law and the right to religious dissent, but colonial slavery was reintroduced. The laws were applied to all territories under Napoleon's control and were influential in several other European countries and in South America.

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