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The General Law Code for the Prussian States, proclaimed on February 5, 1794, effective June 1, 1794 (1794)

The “rationalization” of public and private law through systematization and codification was an Enlightenment precept that Frederick II aimed to fulfill. The overseer of the project was jurist Carl Gottlieb Svarez (1746-98). The “General Law Code for the Prussian States” was first published in 1791. At the time, some of its provisions, particularly those curbing acts of government by royal fiat (i.e., monarchical “absolutism”), appeared as dangerously radical to Frederick William II and his advisers, especially against the background of the unfolding French Revolution. Withdrawn and issued in a more conservative form in 1794, the Code, with its some 19,000 detailed paragraphs, exerted great influence on Prussian law until its supersession by the German Empire’s Civil Law Code [Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch] of 1900. Notable was the Code’s effort to establish equality before the law and a general “rule of law” [Rechtsstaat] while maintaining the social inequalities of the Old Regime “society of estates,” including peasant serfdom in those east-Elbian districts where it had survived. The Code also often descended into petty detail, but its provisions concerning divorce and women’s property rights were relatively liberal.

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The General Law Code for the Prussian States


I. Regarding the laws generally.

§ 1. The General Law Code contains the ordinances according to which the rights and duties of the inhabitants [Einwohner] of the state are to be judged, insofar as these are not determined by special laws.

§ 2. Special provincial ordinances and statutes by individual communities and societies attain the power of law only through the territorial [Landesherrliche] confirmation.

§ 3. Common law [Gewohnheitsrechte] and observance, which are to have the power of law in the provinces and individual communities, must be recorded in the provincial law books. [ . . . ]


§ 10. The law first becomes legally valid at the time at which it is duly announced.

§ 11. Therefore, all legal ordinances and the complete contents thereof must be publically posted at the customary places, and extracts must be made public in the newspapers [Intelligenzblättern] of the province in which they are issued.

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