The mystery of the civil code triangle

I couldn’t understand why the civil codes of Louisiana and Spain seemed so similar in both form and content when all that I read pointed to Louisiana’s early civil codes borrowing heavily from the French Civil Code of 1804 for their structures. While it is generally acknowledged that Louisiana’s legal system was based primarily on the Spanish law in force at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the structure and many of the articles of Louisiana’s first civil code, the Digest of 1808, apparently came directly from the Napoleonic Code of 1804.

However, asking where Louisiana’s code came from was only asking half the question. I’d assumed that the similarities between the two codes must be the result of the influence of Spanish law on Louisiana’s legal system and its first civil code. The other side of the story was the Spanish Civil Code. Where did it come from? What was it based on? Spanish law, of course, but also, it turns out, on the same thing as the Louisiana Civil Code: the French Civil Code of 1804, which was apparently such a fantastic and ground-breaking document that it was used in the drafting of many civil codes.

So, as the civil codes of both Spain and Louisiana were originally based on the same sources (i.e., Spanish law and the French Civil Code), there is bound to be an amount of shared or similar content in them, even in today’s revisions.

More surprisingly, though, is that the Louisiana Civil Code of 1825 was influential in Spain’s draft civil code of 1851, a predecessor to Spain’s first civil code, the Civil Code of 1889. According to Parise (2008), reference was made to 1,103 articles of Louisiana’s 1825 code in the comments to 1,992 articles of the Spanish draft in Concordancias, motivos y comentarios del Código civil español, the rationale for the draft written by its principal author, García Goyena.

So, there you have it: a civil code triangle of influences.

Further Reading

Parise, A. (2008) ‘The Place of the Louisiana Civil Code in the Hispanic Civil Codifications: The Comments to the Spanish Civil Code Project of 1851’, Louisiana Law Review, 68(3), pp. 1019-929.

Tetley, W. (2000) ‘Mixed Jurisdictions: Common Law v. Civil Law (Codified and
Uncodified)’, Louisiana Law Review, 60(3), pp. 677-738.

Trahan, J.R. (2003) ‘The Continuing Influence of le Droit Civil and el Derecho Civil in the Private Law of Louisiana’, Louisiana Law Review, 63(4), pp. 1019-1066.

Written by Rob Lunn

Rob Lunn is a freelance translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English and specialises in legal translation.

2 comments to “The mystery of the civil code triangle”
  1. One thing I would have loved to have in our Legal Translation MA is more comparative law. In fact, all legal systems called Civil are based on the Code Napoleon and Roman Law. Apart from each countries customizations over the years, all basic concepts are the same. I am no expert in the matter, but had a great professor on this subject back in Venezuela.

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