Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Born Today in 1753: French Nobleman Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès

Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès was born today, October 18, in 1753. He was a French nobleman, lawyer, and statesman during the French Revolution and the First Empire. He is best remembered as one of the authors of the Napoleonic Code, which still forms the basis of French civil law and French-inspired civil law in many countries.

Cambacérès was a member of the Committee of General Defence from 1793 until the end of 1794, and later became a member of its infamous successor, the Committee of Public Safety after the fall of Robespierre. In the meantime he worked on much of the legislation of the revolutionary period. During 1795, he was employed as a diplomat and negotiated peace with Spain, Tuscany, Prussia and the Netherlands. His remarkable debating skills gave him a spot as a councilor of the Five Hundred from 1795-1799.

Cambacérès was considered too conservative to be one of the five Directors who took power in the coup of 1795 and, finding himself in opposition to the Executive Directory, he retired from politics. In 1799, however, as the Revolution entered a more moderate phase, he became Minister of Justice. He supported the coup of 18 Brumaire (in November 1799) that brought Napoleon Bonaparte to power as First Consul, a new regime designed to establish a stable constitutional republic.

He was second consul with Bonaparte and then archchancellor of the empire. As Napoleon’s principal adviser on all juridical matters from 1800 to 1814, he was instrumental in formulating the Napoleonic Code, or Civil Code (1804), and subsequent codes. Often consulted on other matters of state, he tried to exert a moderating influence on the emperor.

Cambacérès was gay, his sexual orientation was well-known, and he does not seem to have made any effort to conceal it. He remained unmarried, and kept to the company of other "bachelors." Napoleon is recorded as making a number of jokes on the subject.

Cambacérès' colleagues also didn't fail to poke fun at his gluttony. When he met with the Council while Napoleon was away, everyone knew that the meeting would be over before lunch. He was known for having the best dinners in France and for his extravagant lifestyle. According to him, "a country is governed by good dinner parties."

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