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But if limitations ought to be established against merchants who nieglect to prosecute their rights, it was also conformable to justice to say that they cannot take place when there shall have been a note or obligation given, settlement of accouuts, or judicial proceeding, and such is the regulation of article 434. of the present law.
Gentlemen, this book, the provisions of which we have just made known to you, completes the commercial code. Like the ordinances of Louis XIV. of which it is destined to supply the place, it is surrounded with the trophies of victory; it takes its station among the laws; it comes to regulate the commercial transactions of a people whose connexions of every kind are found extended by arms, by political negotiations, and still more by that influence which a great man exercises over the neighbouring nations of his empire, particularly when some of them have desired him for their legislator, and others have proclaimed him their protector.
In consequence of this increase of the commercial relations between the French, and the other people of Europe, the influence of this code will not be confined to the limits of France; it may indeed become a common law to the people whose interest places them in our system of federation and alliance. Our august emperor had thus anticipated it, when he demanded that the provisions of the commercial code should be as much as possible in harmony with the other systems of commercial legislation in Europe ; when he required that every interest should be consulted; when, after having intrusted the first plan of the code to able men, he caused it to be discussed in the courts of cassation and of appeal, in the tribunals, in the chambers, and in the councils of commerce. We must confess that this discussion has been honourable to those who bore a part in it; they were influenced by the sole desire of improving a work already possessing great merit in itself.
The result of this luminous discussion forms au immense mass : collected by the ministers of justice and of the interior, it was necessary to analyze all the observations which it contained; to
compare them, and to profit by this concentration of light to make in the first draught of the code all the changes which the prosperity of commerce and the national interest demanded. The commission instituted in the year 9 (1801) having accomplished its task, considered itself as dissolved; three of the members of that commission, Messrs. Gorneau, Legras and Vital-Roux, enlightened civilians and merchants, full of zeal, but above all, strong in their attachment to the emperor, solicited of the ministers of his majesty the permission to undertake, at their own expense, the revision of the code; the ministers gave them authority to that effect; they did more, they soon after encouraged them in it; these geutlemen devote themselves with ardour to this new labour; they increase their knowledge by that of Messrs. Vignon and Boursier, by the information they find in French authors, in the legislation of the other nations of Europe; they establish themselves impartial judges of a work in which they had taken so great a part; they thus put it in the power of his majesty to order, in the year 11, (1803) the impression of the commercial code revised, which has served as a basis to the meditations of the minister of the interior, and to the discussions of the council of state.
If the sentiment of gratitude has led us to name those who have more particularly aided us, in fulfilling the desire of his majesty
and of commerce, let us be permitted to express the same sentiment to those among you, gentlemen, who have enlightened by their intelligence the courts, the tribunals, and the chambers of commerce of which they are members.
It is this union of knowledge which has produced the commercial code ; it is not the work of any particular person : it is a sort of national monument raised by the contributions of every intelligent man of the empire.
THE COMMERCIAL CODE.
Presented to the Legislative Body, by M. Segur, Counsellor of
SITTING OF THE THIRD SEPTEMBER, 1807.
GENTLEMEN, The emperor has re-established and carried to the highest degree of glory, the reputation of our arms; be has revived justice in our laws, order in our administration; he desires still more, he wishes to restore public morality, because he knows that without it, natious which make the greatest show of splendour, have no real grandeur, no solid power, no durable prosperity: we have glory enough, we ought to have morals.
It is with this view that he charges us to present to you a severe law: its title suffices to make you acquainted with its importance; it is a law respecting failures and bankruptcies.
Unhappily, this restrictive law has become a public want; general indignation calls for it, universal desire expects it, every honest merchant in France demands it; and perhaps, for the first time, one would be tempted to believe that the indefatigable vigilance of our sovereign, who, hitherto, has anticipated every wish of the French people, has in this instance only gratified it.
But you know as well as we, gentlemen, that he who will never be forgotten, and who has never forgotten any thing, has unceasingly been occupied, for several years past, with this important part of legislation.
A plan of the commercial code, drawn up in the year 9, (1801) by able med, already contained some salutary remedies against the evils complained of, and seemed to offer a sufficient curb to arrest the public scandal of those audacious and repeated bankruptcies, which left so many culpable persons without shame, and so many victims without resource and without vengeance; yet the public sentiment required more severity.
But nobody knows better than his majesty, how much celerity is necessary to make great conquests, and deliberation to make good laws: the greater the evils are, the more the legislator should distrust the indignation which they inspire. An act of administration may be rigorous without danger; this act is only for a time: the law is for duration ; it ought to be applicable not to one circumstance, but to all; not to a capital where luxury relaxes morality, but to the extent of the provinces of an immense empire, where good morals are still respected; this law ought to encourage probity, succour misfortune, correct imprudence, and punish crimes; it ought to be indulgent to the former, inexorable to the latter, just to all.
In order to be better informed of the truth, the emperor wished to surround us with lights ; the plan of the code has been sent to all the chambers and tribunals of commerce, to all the courts and tribunals in France; their observations on this plan have been printed. The code has been modified by the first framers in consequence of these observations; and for several years past the council of state has had it under consideration, in order to obey the orders of his majesty, to compare together this plan of the code, and these observations, with the ancient ordinances, and the laws of the most commercial nations of Europe.
We offer you to-day the result of this labour, with the more confidence, because it is the fruit of long and enlightened discussions, by the experience of all that our country contains of upright merchants and able magistrates.
Charged particularly to present you the third book of this code, which treats of failures and bankruptcies, I come now, as briefly
as possible for me, to develop the system, and state the motives which have induced us to adopt it.
In order to remedy the disorders which for some years past bave so scandalously tarnished the commercial honour of France, it was necessary, in the first place, to discover their real causes. Two principal ones have been found to exist. The first, the revolution, which by its violent commotion, overthrew men, fortunes, and ranks, offered alike to hope and to fear, the most irregular and boundless chances of elevation or ruin; put in the place of money, a paper currency of which the forced circulation and rapid fall left no fixed value to any thing, nor real credit to any person, and which opened an extensive field to the calculations of avidity and the speculations of dishonesty.
Failures, far from being a subject of shame, had become the means of fortune, the source of which scarcely any care was taken to disguise ; and if those numerous bankruptcies were not always the work of fraud, they were at least the offspring of ignorance, because every body was anxious to engage in commerce, without possessing any of the knowledge which that profession requires.
The remedy for the evil which I have just described, is to be drawn from time; and already its happy effects are perceived.
The return of public tranquillity, the wise firmness of the government, the disappearance of paper money, the re-establishment of credit, will gradually replace things in their ordinary course, and men in their natural order; shameful stockjobbing is discontinued; professions are classed, the bonds of attachment are more closely united, and national honour will soon completely dissipate every thing that can yet remain of that deplorable anarchy.
Thus, gentlemen, this first cause of the disorders of our commerce has had but a slight influence upon the labour in which we were engaged, since it ceases, as it were, of itself to operate.
The second cause, more durable, of the scourge of bankrupt. cies, proceeds from the imperfection of the laws.
We do not pretend, in this place, to diminish the just esteem due to the ordinances of Louis XIV. and the immortal labours of Col