New Code of Laws That Embodied Enlightenment Spirit

The Declaration was born out of Enlightenment principles, including individualism, the social contract as theorized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Montesquieu`s separation of powers. The spirit of secular natural law rests on the foundations of the Declaration. Unlike traditional theory of natural law, secular natural law is not inspired by religious doctrine or authority. The document defines a single set of individual and collective rights for all men. Influenced by the doctrine of natural law, these rights are considered universal and valid at all times and in all places. Therefore, the role of government, exercised by elected representatives, is to recognize and guarantee these rights. This motto was no longer used under the Empire, like many revolutionary symbols. It reappeared during the Revolution of 1848, marked by a religious dimension: priests celebrated “Christ Fraternity” and blessed the trees of liberty planted at that time. When the Constitution of 1848 was drafted, the motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” was defined as the “principle” of the Republic.

The French Civil Code was adopted in various European jurisdictions, either by export to jurisdictions that were or were colonies, or by taxation by conquest in regions such as Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy and various Germanic territories. The influence of the French Civil Code was further extended when it became a model for jurisdictions codifying their own laws in the early twentieth century. These jurisdictions include European countries such as Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, as well as Romania and other jurisdictions in the Balkan Peninsula. In Latin America, the French Civil Code has been copied or imitated in Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Puerto Rico and Uruguay. In the East, Egypt and Lebanon have also followed the example of the French Civil Code. The French Civil Code consists of 2,281 articles and consists of three distinct sections or “books”, each of which – in classical Enlightenment thought – follows logically. Book I describes “persons” because the rights they have must be taken into account before examining the things or property discussed in Book II. Book III combines the scope of the first two books in that it concerns the rights that people have over things, including rights acquired through contracts, sales, inheritances, and other types. The organization of private law in a comprehensive code of law is a relatively recent phenomenon. Although codification is often misinterpreted as a characteristic difference between civil law (i.e. the private law system that prevails in much of Europe and Latin America) and common law (i.e. the private law system used in the English-speaking world), it is not a defining feature of civil law.

Roman law, the basis of civil law, has not been codified, nor has the current private law of South Africa, which is still largely influenced by Romano-Dutch law. In general, codification is a product of Enlightenment thinking, which, as Konrad Zweigert and Hein Kötz describe, argues for a conscious, complete and rational legal system. Book III, which has been characterized as a miracle bag of various types of legal transactions, has remained true to tradition and has brought important changes regarding general and special offenses and contracts. In general, this area of law developed over the centuries and remained largely unchanged after the revolution. Although the Civil Code has adopted a strong guiding principle of freedom of contract, other areas of contract law, such as sales law, are strongly influenced by their traditional Roman origins. Book III also regulates inheritances, gifts, and wills, and the authors introduced innovations by rejecting old notions of favoring firstborn and male heirs. Book III embraces the freedom to dispose of property in a will, but balances the idea of individual freedom with the concepts of family solidarity and with the obligation to bequeath property to children after death. The second article defines “natural and non-prescribed human rights” as “liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.” He called for the destruction of aristocratic privileges by proclaiming the end of feudalism and tax exemptions. He also called for freedom and equal rights for all people (called “men”) and access to talent-based public service. The monarchy is restricted and all citizens have the right to participate in the legislative process.

Freedom of expression and freedom of the press have been declared and arbitrary arrests prohibited. The declaration also reaffirmed the principles of popular sovereignty, as opposed to the divine right of kings that characterized the French monarchy and social equality among citizens, thus eliminating the special rights of the nobility and clergy. Finally, the influence of the French Civil Code extends even to North America and is important for codifications in Quebec and Louisiana, the latter being the only jurisdiction in the United States with a civil justice system. The link between Louisiana civil law and French civil law is natural. Not only was Louisiana a French colony first from 1699 to 1762 and then again from 1800 to 1803, but the first codification of Louisiana took place in 1808, just four years after the adoption of the Code Napoléon. While there is some debate as to whether the sources in the Louisiana Digest of 1808 were based on Spanish or French law, there is no doubt that when Louisiana revised its Civil Code in 1825, French sources, including French academic commentaries over the next two decades, had a great influence. In the 1950s, translations of French scholarly on the French Civil Code were prepared and disseminated in Louisiana, which became influential and instructive documents for the interpretation of the Louisiana Civil Code.