Among Napoleon Bonaparte’s earliest and most significant contributions after seizing power in France was to enact a uniform legal code, which had been mooted since the 1770s but successive revolutionary governments failed to accomplish. Napoleon began the process in 1800 and had preliminary drafts circulating the following year. “Neither kings nor representative assemblies had been capable of achieving so much, so quickly,” the historian William Doyle wrote.
Napoleon was personally present at 57 of 102 sessions that produced the civil code, which was adopted in 1804, the same year Napoleon was crowned emperor. The code, which inspired the legal systems in much of Europe, is still in force today in France.
Now, a French freelance developer named Steeve Morin has put the entire civil code on GitHub, the web-based depository to track revisions in software code. He calls it “a little hack, the result of an afternoon of coding.”
In his introduction to the Git, which anyone can access, Morin compares elected officials and civil servants who work collaboratively to create new laws with developers, who collaborate to write code and create tools like GitHub to track this evolution. “The civil code is a part of the source code of France” he says.
The benefits of using GitHub, rather than going to the French government’s own online hub of the civil code, is the ability to track changes. For example, France legalized gay marriage in 2013 and the law can be tracked on Morin’s Git here. In many ways, it is a more logical and user-friendly way to track the changes to laws over time—in a similar spirit, developers have put the federal laws of Germany and the US on GitHub as well.
Consider Morin’s hack an open-sourcing of one of Napoleon’s greatest and most lasting legacies.