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

Granting almost limitless discretionary power to the wealthy


may also notice here that Bonaparte sought to surround the act of adoption with much solemnity, declaring it to be one of the grandest acts imaginable. Yet, lest marriage should thereby be discouraged, celibates were expressly debarred from the privileges of adopting heirs. The precaution shows how keenly this able ruler peered into the future. Doubtless, he surmised that in the future the population of France would cease to expand at the normal rate, owing to the working of the law compelling the equal division of property among all the children of a family. To this law he was certainly opposed. Equality in regard to the bequest of property was one of the sacred maxims of revolutionary jurists, who had limited the right of free disposal by bequest to one-tenth of each estate: nine-tenths being of necessity divided equally among the direct heirs. Yet so strong was the reaction in favour of the Roman principle of paternal authority, that Bonaparte and a majority of the drafters of the new Code scrupled not to assail that maxim, and to claim for the father larger discretionary powers over the disposal of his property. They demanded that the disposable share should vary according to the wealth of the testator--a remarkable proposal, which proves him to be anything but the unflinching champion of revolutionary legal ideas which popular French histories have generally depicted him.

This proposal would have re-established liberty of bequest in its

most pernicious form, granting almost limitless discretionary power to the wealthy, while restricting or denying it to the poor.[166] Fortunately for his reputation in France, the suggestion was rejected; and the law, as finally adopted, fixed the disposable share as one-half of the property, if there was but one heir; one-third, if there were two heirs; one-fourth, if there were three; and so on, diminishing as the size of the family increased. This sliding scale, varying inversely with the size of the family, is open to an obvious objection: it granted liberty of bequest only in cases where the family was small, but practically lapsed when the family attained to patriarchal dimensions. The natural result has been that the birth-rate has suffered a serious and prolonged check in France. It seems certain that the First Consul foresaw this result. His experience of peasant life must have warned him that the law, even as now amended, would stunt the population of France and ultimately bring about that [Greek: oliganthropia] which saps all great military enterprises. The great captain did all in his power to prevent the French settling down in a self-contained national life; he strove to stir them up to world-wide undertakings, and for the success of his future imperial schemes a redundant population was an absolute necessity.

The Civil Code became law in 1804: after undergoing some slight modifications and additions, it was, in 1807 renamed the Code Napoleon. Its provisions had already, in 1806, been adopted in Italy. In 1810 Holland, and the newly-annexed coast-line of the North Sea as far as Hamburg, and even Luebeck on the Baltic, received it as the basis of their laws, as did the Grand Duchy of Berg in 1811. Indirectly it has also exerted an immense influence on the legislation of Central and Southern Germany, Prussia, Switzerland, and Spain: while many of the Central and South American States have also borrowed its salient features.

A Code of Civil Procedure was promulgated in France in 1806, one of Commerce in 1807, of "Criminal Instruction" in 1808, and a Penal Code in 1810. Except that they were more reactionary in spirit than the Civil Code, there is little that calls for notice here, the Penal Code especially showing little advance in intelligence or clemency on the older laws of France. Even in 1802, officials favoured severity after the disorders of the preceding years. When Fox and Romilly paid a visit to Talleyrand at Paris, they were informed by his secretary that:

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