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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

Founded on the principles of liberty and equality


blocks of the pyramid were almost entirely his own. He widened the area of French citizenship; above all, he strengthened the structure of the family by enhancing the father's authority. Herein his Corsican instincts and the requirements of statecraft led him to undo much of the legislation of the revolutionists. Their ideal was individual liberty: his aim was to establish public order by autocratic methods. They had sought to make of the family a little republic, founded on the principles of liberty and equality; but in the new code the paternal authority reappeared no less strict, albeit less severe in some details than that of the _ancien regime._ The family was thenceforth modelled on the idea dominant in the State, that authority and responsible action pertained to a single individual. The father controlled the conduct of his children: his consent was necessary for the marriage of sons up to their twenty-fifth year, for that of daughters up to their twenty-first year; and other regulations were framed in the same spirit.[162] Thus there was rebuilt in France the institution of the family on an almost Roman basis; and these customs, contrasting sharply with the domestic anarchy of the Anglo-Saxon race, have had a mighty influence in fashioning the character of the French, as of the other Latin peoples, to a ductility that yields a ready obedience to local officials, drill-sergeants, and the central Government.

In other respects Bonaparte's

influence on the code was equally potent. He raised the age at which marriage could be legally contracted to that of eighteen for men, and fifteen for women, and he prescribed a formula of obedience to be repeated by the bride to her husband; while the latter was bound to protect and support the wife.[163]

And yet, on the question of divorce, Bonaparte's action was sufficiently ambiguous to reawaken Josephine's fears; and the detractors of the great man have some ground for declaring that his action herein was dictated by personal considerations. Others again may point to the declarations of the French National Assemblies that the law regarded marriage merely as a civil contract, and that divorce was to be a logical sequel of individual liberty, "which an indissoluble tie would annul." It is indisputable that extremely lax customs had been the result of the law of 1792, divorce being allowed on a mere declaration of incompatibility of temper.[164] Against these scandals Bonaparte firmly set his face. But he disagreed with the framers of the new Code when they proposed altogether to prohibit divorce, though such a proposition might well have seemed consonant with his zeal for Roman Catholicism. After long debates it was decided to reduce the causes which could render divorce possible from nine to four--adultery, cruelty, condemnation to a degrading penalty, and mutual consent--provided that this last demand should be persistently urged after not less than two years of marriage, and in no case was it to be valid after twenty years of marriage.[165]

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