Tulane Law Review, Vol. 71, No. 4 (March 1997), pp. 1041-1172. Reprinted with the permission of the Tulane Law Review Association, which holds the copyright.


In a recent article, The Origins and Authors of the Code Noir, my friend Vernon Palmer graciously and courteously took me to task for claiming that the law in the Code Noir was not made "on the spot" in the Antilles, but in Paris. He also said of me and of Hans Baade, "neither author appears to have investigated the actual circumstances of the Code's redaction." I can speak only for myself, and I confess with shame that Professor Palmer is quite correct. I did not investigate the actual circumstances of the redaction of the Code Noir. And I should have. I made an assumption, based on the drafting of the Code in Paris, and its dating from Paris, January, 1685.

My position was: "The French solution to the problem of slave law for the colonies was extensive royal legislation emanating from France, in which Roman law principles predominated.

Professor Palmer suggests that it is not without importance that those who find indebtedness to Rome in the Code Noir are usually specialists in Roman law. I would end on a rather different note. It would be invidious to name names--and I am not thinking of Professor Palmer--but many scholars of comparative law and comparative legal history habitually downplay the role of Roman law in subsequent legal development. If one accepted, as I do, its enormous scale, then one would have to come to grips with Roman law, a laborious task. Much better just to deny its importance. The wider significance of this Article, beyond the Antilles and the Code Noir, lies in this claim of the great impact of Roman slave law even in the Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch-America societies that were based on very different, even racist, principles.