The French Civil Code (1804)

Napoleon brought to completion a project dear to the hearts of the revolutionaries, the drafting of new law codes. The civil code was the most important of them because it institutionalized equality under the law (at least for adult men), guaranteed the abolition of feudalism, and, not least, gave the nation one single code of law replacing the hundreds in effect in 1789. As the following excerpts show, however, it also codified the subservience of women in marriage and of workers in their places of employment. Divorce was still allowed (it had been established in 1792), but under conditions that were very unfavorable to wives.


Of the Rights and Respective Duties of Husband and Wife:

Husband and wife mutually owe to each other fidelity, succor, and assistance.

The husband owes protection to his wife, the wife obedience to her husband.

The wife is obliged to live with her husband, and to follow him wherever he may think proper to dwell: the husband is bound to receive her, and to furnish her with everything necessary for the purposes of life, according to his means and condition.

The wife can do no act in law without the authority of the husband, even where she shall be a public trader, or not in community, or separate in property.

Of Causes of Divorce:

The husband may demand divorce for cause of adultery on the part of his wife.

The wife may demand divorce for cause of adultery on the part of her husband, where he shall have kept his concubine in their common house.

Of the Provisional Measures to Which the Demand of Divorce for Cause Defined May Give Cause:

The provisional administration of the children shall remain with the husband plaintiff or defendant in divorce, unless it shall be otherwise ordered by the tribunal, at the request either of the mother, or of the family, or of the imperial proctor, for the greater benefit of the children.

Source: Bryant Barrett, trans., The Code Napoleon, verbally translated from the French, 2 vols. (London: W. Reed, 1811), I: 47, 49, 57; II: p. 358.