Saturday, October 20, 2012


Napoleon was one of the greatest military leaders in the history of the world. Strangely, Napoleon’s legacyisn’t related to his military talent but mostly to the modernization of the country, which served as a model for all states in the sphere of influence of the French and later to all of Europe. Napoleon was very close to becoming the soul ruler of Europe, if it wouldn’t have been for his defeat at Waterloo. Many say that only luck and the tardiness of one of his generals turned the battle in favor of the allied monarchs of Europe. As I said I don’t believe Napoleon’s legacy has much to do with his military genius, but more with the reforms he initiated.

1.        The Metric System: Napoleon’s France was the first country to introduce the metric system. It was an unpopular decision but it helped the widespread of this system in most countries under the French sphere of influence. It is now almost a universal system of measurement with all but three countries, The United States, Liberia and Burma, having other systems. The metric system was adopted in 1799, but in 1812, Napoleon had to introduce legislation introducing the traditional units of measurement, common in pre-revolutionary France, but which were now based on the meter and kilo. We can say that the Metric system is part of Napoleon’s legacy.
2.         The Napoleonic Code: This is probably one Napoleon’s legacy’s that stood the test of time. It is probably the most famous of his achievements, and definitely the one that was the most influential. The Napoleonic code established modern judiciary practices. It was adopted in 1804 as the French Civil Code. This code wasn’t the first of its kind similar codes’ existing in Germanic states, but it was definitely the most influential, and probably the most complex of its time. Many countries, not only those in the sphere of influence of the French adopted almost identical codes. The need for a civil code came because of the fact that feudal and royal laws were contradictory in some cases and confusing for people. Before the Code there wasn’t a single set of laws; there existed only laws that were based on local customs for every region, most notably was the Coutume de Paris. Also there were exemptions from the law and special privileges granted by feudal lords or the king. The Napoleonic code, named so in 1807, divided law into the law of propriety, persons, the acquisition of propriety, and civil procedure. Although the Code was based on Justinian’s codification of the Roman law that was made in the sixth century it differed in a couple of key aspects such as the removal of religious content. The Napoleonic code made the law much more clear and accessible. The Code made clear what the attributes of judges were, and which were the legislative powers. In this sense, article five prohibited judges form deciding cases by way of introducing of a new general rule. This made clear that the introducing of new general rules was not a judiciary attribute, but a legislative one. This meant that, as opposed to the American judiciary system, the Code established that there would be no case law in France. At the same time, Article four of the Code, prohibited any court form refusing a case do to insufficiency of law. This meant that although the laws were created by the legislative power, the judiciary power had to interpret these laws and fill in the gap. So, a new body of judiciary created laws had to be created, which we now call jurisprudence. Even though the rule of binding precedence doesn’t apply, still the French judiciary system became more or less case law based, with regards to important decisions of some major courts. The other great innovations of the Napoleonic code regarded the elimination of exemptions and privileges, and the rule of law. Also, there couldn’t be any so called secret laws, because a law could only be applied after it had been promulgated and officially published. A law couldn’t be applied to events that happened before the law was promulgated. These great innovations or better yet, this modernization of civil law is what I believe to be Napoleon’s legacy.

Napoleon was one of the greatest rulers in history. He almost succeeded in conquering the whole of Europe. But if he failed to conquer it by way of arms, I believe that Napoleon’s legacy is still one of the most important for what Europe is today. The Napoleonic Code was one of the firs set of laws that had a pan-European purpose. Napoleon wanted to rule the whole of Europe, but he also wanted to reform and modernize every new territory he conquered, by the example of what he managed to do in France.

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