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This Article asserts that the Code Civil must be recognized as an important source for Latin American legal thought before the massively successful work of Andrés Bello. In fact, the Code Civil was the source from which Bolivar launched a last-ditch effort to unify the crumbling remains of Gran Colombia in 1829. This Article attempts to place this failed codification attempt into the political context of Bolivar’s slipping political control of Gran Colombia and the psychological context of Bolivar’s emulation of his hero Napoleon Bonaparte. These aspects are accompanied by a third influence: the historical context of codification in Latin America, particularly as it relates to the work of Jeremy Bentham.


Codification can be an effective means to centralize and to consolidate state power. The use of codification in this manner runs against the commonly perceived notion that it promotes republican and egalitarian values. As Simon Bolivar's dictatorship quickly crumbled around him, he turned to codification based on the Code Napoleon as part of an attempt to unify Gran Colombia. Factors leading him to this undertaking and source were the need for legal reform, his emulation of Napoleon, his exposure to the works of Jeremy Bentham, and, speculatively, the influence of Andres Bello. Boivar's attempt at codification was not to complete a successful and well-structured liberal reform agenda for his country, but rather to reassert central power and to create legal dependence on his regime. Among the political anarchy of the country and the disorganization, bad luck, and inaction of those charged with drafting the code, the project failed. Nonetheless, Bolivar's hopes of appropriating the Code Napoleon demonstrate that it was an important source for Latin American thought on civil law several decades before Bello used it in drafting the Chilean Civil Code.