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The uofortunate creditors were condemned to pass their days in privation and tears, whilst the wife of their debtor was leading a life of tranquillity, luxury, and idleness. All the arts contributed to decorate the palace which she inhabited; pumerous attendants anticipated her desires, and flattered her vanities, and, whenever she deigned to bestow some feeble assistance on a small number of the unfortunate, not by beneficence, for beneficence dwells not with robbery, but is the hope that the benedictions of some unhappy beings would stifle the maledictions of the multitude, those pretended acts of humanity were likewise proclaimed with ostentation, by officious writers even in foreigo courts.
It is at length time to put an end to these scandals.And at what period can we flatter ourselves of being able to stop them with more success?
When the sovereign himself in his private life gives an example of all the social and domestic virtues, when with unceasing vigilance he endeavours to establish a rigorous order in all the parts of an immense administration, has he not a right to expect that individuals, restored to the practice of the modest virtues, and to the habit of a regular life, will give security to society, and at the same time prepare for themselves and their families lasting enjoyments, because they will be founded upon wise and pure calculations, and unattended with remorse?
I resume the consideration of the provisions in regard to the rights of women.
The wife of the insolvent may withdraw what she has really brought to her husband; she can pretend to nothing beyond this.
This is the basis of the articles which are submitted to you.
Thus, all the real property, which constituted wholly or int part the wife's marriage portion, or which may have come to her by inheritance or donation, shall be at her disposal; it shall be the same with respect to jewels, furniture, and plate, which she can prove to have been given to her in the marriage contract, or derived by inheritance; but she must substantiate her clains by legal proof and regular inventories; besides, her demands must necessarily be subject to the mortgages with which the property may be charged, either in consequence of her voluntary act or a judicial decision against her.
Under whatever regulation the marriage may have been cor tracted, the law presumes that all the personal property without exception belongs to the husband, and we shall no longer see the real creditors repulsed by the production of fraudulent instru ments, fabricated for the purpose of conveying to the wife an estate which she ought not to have.
In vain also shall the wife claim an indemnity for pretended debts, paid by her for her husband, if she do not prove, by legal instruments, the origin of the property which she pretends to have employed for that purpose. Would it not be equally shameful, for the wife as well as the husband, to put in a claim to property the source of which should be unknown?
For the same reason, all the pretended acquisitions of the wife are reputed to have been made by the husband, and paid for out of his personal estate.
With what scandal do we see women, who were married without fortune, and without any real marriage portion, under the protection of pretended acquisitions, actually in possession of all the estate of a husband delinquent by many millions towards his creditors!
Finally, gentlemen, the wife of a merchant, who shall pretend to have brought money or other personal property to her husband, or who shall claim either the restitution of her property, alienated during the marriage, or an indemnity for debts contracted with her husband, shall have a lien for all these objects, only on the real estate which actually belonged to the husband at the period of the marriage.
Every thing acquired since by the husband, could only have been at the expense, and with the property, of his creditors; it would be revolting that the wife of the bankrupt should come and carry off this property, and thus triumphantly escape from a catastrophe of which she was perhaps the primary cause.
You readily perceive, gentlemen, that the settlements made upon the wife, by the husband after marriage, cannot be claimed by her in case of his failure; that was indeed one of the great causes of the ruin of creditors, who saw with despair a woman whom all the world kuew without fortune, tranquilly enjoy an immense estate of which they had been despoiled.
What we haye said in regard to women married to men engaged in commerce is equally applicable to women who shall have married the sons of merchants, not having at the period of their marriage any profession, or determined condition, and who afterwards became merchants themselves.
It is evident, that to escape from the strict justice of the rules which we have established, these sons of merchants would marry without mentioning in their contract a profession, which, however, they would desire to assume, and which in effect they would eventually take.
This reflection is not applicable to the wife whose husband had, at the time of the marriage, a determined profession, other than that of a merchant; she ought, in this case, to enjoy all the rights of a mortgagee granted by the Code Napoleon; she took no husband engaged in commerce, and her union was formed under another law.
It was, however, foreseen, that this exception might be abused; it is, therefore, declared, that the wife cannot avail herself of the advantage of it, if her husband has entered into trade within the year immediately succeeding the marriage.
I consider it quite superfluous to call your attention to the articles of the project, which provide that the wife who should have conveyed away, concealed, or secreted the goods of her husband, or who should have taken a direct part in acts of fraud against creditors, may be prosecuted as an accomplice in the bankruptcy.
You now know, gentlemen, all that part of the law, the exposition of which has been intrusted to me. The spirit of justice has dictated these provisions, the lively sentiment of indignation, which cannot be suppressed against robberies, has never influenced the calm of the magistrate who meditates the law.
The wife who shall not be found an accomplice, may take back every thing which can be proved actually to belong to her. She will receive this act of justice from the unfortunate mass of creditors; they will not afterwards have the right of requiring any thing from her. But will she consider herself released from all obligation ? Will she enjoy without secret pain all that belongs to her, whilst a crowd of unhappy beings are languishing in want, through the faults of the man whose companion she is? And will she not hear from the bottom of her heart a voice unceasingly crying to her--the law has restored your property, but honour forbids you to accept the whole of it; the sacrifice which the law could not command you to make, humanity ought to inspire; you have not offended against the law, but you have proved that you are destitute of sensibility, and you know not the means of honouring yourself by acts of beneficence.
Doubt it not, gentlemen, this voice will not always be stifled; we shall again see, I venture to assure you, elevated souls, which, in a state of personal humiliation, will not fail to acquire titles to glory. Happy the children, wlio, having cause to bemoan the faults of a father, may cherish with pride the memory of her who gave them existence!
THE COMMERCIAL CODE.
Presented to the Legislative Body, by Messrs. Maret, Pelet, and
Corvetto, Counsellors of State.
SITTING OF THE FOURTH SEPTEMBER, 1807.
GENTLEMEN, His majesty has charged us to present for your sanction, the fourth book of the commercial code--of commercial jurisdiction.
This book treats of the organization of the tribunals of commerce, of their competency, of the mode of procedure, and of that of proceeding before the courts of appeal.
The organization of the tribunals of commerce differs little from what it has been for several years past. They shall have presidents, judges and substitutes. The limitation of the number of judges, as well as that of the tribunals, and of the places in which they are to hold their sessions, have vot appeared to appertain to the law; and in effect, his majesty can alone better judge of the wants and localities of the different departments.
It is not to be apprehended that he will diminish the actual Qumber of these tribunals, of almost the whole of which their ancient existence evinces the utility : besides, he already acknowledges the services they have rendered to commerce; and counts upon
their future usefulness. Every Frenchman engaged in commerce, is actually called to the election of the judges. Their office shall be confided solely to merchants, heads of the most ancient houses, and the most estimable for property, and the spirit of order and economy. Their