It seems to be true that many people around the world tend to believe that the field of law is something bad and they usually think of it with fear and intimidation in most cases. In reality modern law (in most Western countries at least) is serving the citizen and it’s definitely in his favor – as long as you don’t violate it. Lawyers and jurists might be portrayed from popular media as sneaky people who will try to screw you for a few (thousands of) bucks, but reality is far from these misconceptions and negative stereotypes. Here are ten great and bright examples of jurists and lawmakers who contributed to the mankind more than one could ever imagine.
10. Édouard René Lefèbvre de Laboulaye
How he changed the world: He conceived the idea for the construction of Statue of Liberty
Laboulaye’s contributions in Law might not be as significant as the rest of the jurists that follow in this list, but he’s still the man to thank for the Statue of Liberty in New York. He was one of the most liberal jurists of his time and a master of comparative law, which was the main reason he focused and admired the American Constitution so much. He became a professor in some of the most prestigious law universities of France, while during his spare time he used to write poetry with legal subject. De Laboulaye observed that the country’s centennial was approaching in 1876. He considered it would be a great idea for France to present America with a unique gift to monumentalize the occasion. After he was given permission from the French authorities he commissioned the French architect Bartholdi to construct the gigantic statue. This way he became widely known as the man who conceived the idea of the Statue of Liberty in New York, as well as its twin but smaller version in Paris.
9. Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach
How he changed the world: “Nullum crimen nulla poena sine lege”
It’s pretty sure that most people have heard at least once in their lifetime this quote: “There’s no crime and hence there shall not be punishment if at the time no penal law existed” or maybe its more modern version that got inspired from the original quote: “Innocent until proven guilty”. One way or another Feuerbach is the man that inspired this revolutionary legal idea. Some might disagree and claim that the specific term goes back to antiquity and Roman Law, but truth is that it would not become widely accepted or even respected in the modern world until the German humanist jurist spread it all around the world. He’s widely considered today as one of the basic figures that followed the great Beccaria and contributed the most for the reformation of Criminal Law.
How he changed the world: Wrote the first codes of law in recorded history
Hammurabi is not exactly your typical jurist or lawmaker that studied law in a prestigious law university; however his contributions to the field are unquestionable. Hammurabi was the king of Babylon and a conqueror. During his reign Babylon became the central spot of cultural and religious power, while his military forces expanded the power and influence of Babylon in all of Mesopotamia. Such accomplishments made him officially the first king of the Babylonian Empire. The geographical area that his empire covered was so vast that Hammurabi came up with the idea of a common law that would be in power for every corner of his empire. He wrote Hammurabi’s Code (named after him) which was the very first set of codes of law in history and he was the first man to put law as a social and state institution.
7. Lycurgus of Sparta
How he changed the world: Father of Spartan Law (and the Laws of War)
Lycurgus was a legendary king of Sparta, who lived around 800 B.C. During his life he traveled in many different parts of the known then world, such as Crete and Athens inside Greece, but Egypt as well, and Libya. Once he returned to Sparta he decided to reform the Spartan policy and law system. Legend says that he left Sparta forever, only so the law system would not change from his fellow Spartan citizens, who had sworn not to do so, unless Lycurgus was alive and present helping as an observer. The basic characteristics of the new Spartan laws (that were blindly followed for centuries) written by Lycurgus included the iron discipline of the citizens and the common education for boys and girls, as well as war techniques introduced to the citizens from early childhood; they also included the ban on use of silver and gold coins so the citizens could move easier, and as well the obligation of youth to obey and take advice from the Spartan elderly, especially on matters related to war and the security of Sparta.
6. Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès
How he changed the world: Author of the Napoleonic Code
Cambacérès was a jurist and statesman during the French Revolution and the First Empire that became really popular for two things mainly: a) he was the author of the Napoleonic Code which consisted the basis of French civil law that later would consist the basis of Civil Law for most European and Western nations (including the US) and b) he was probably the first homosexual jurist with so much power in his hands that he openly admitted being gay. His love for younger handsome boys was so well-known that it’s reported that when a gang of prostitutes approached all the influential and powerful men during a party, Napoleon himself seems to stated : “Get the hell out of here, you stand absolutely no chance with this man”. However the popular belief that Cambacérès was the one to thank for decriminalizing homosexuality in France and later in Europe is totally false and it doesn’t derive such thing from any official historical source. He used to claim that “Personal life should never get mixed with professional career” and judging from his work, he was keeping his word.
5. Hugo Grotius
How he changed the world: Father of International Law
The set of laws and rules between different states and nations that ensure justice and a fair treatment to every citizen in any corner of the world, regardless his nation of origin is what we nowadays call International law. The obligation and promise of every civilized nation to respect and follow the codes of International law is what brings most nations closer today and help them to dissolve legal disputes in the most peaceful and civilized manner. The man to thank for this is no other than Hugo Grotius. The Dutch humanist jurist, existed an exceptional man of law and writer during his lifetime, a lover of Ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates. The heavy influence from the classic writers of antiquity is more than obvious in one of his most famous works that is considered the foundation of International Law today, De jure belli ac pacis.
How he changed the world: First to Document the Codes of Law
What makes Draco unique and places him in law history, is not the fact that he became the first lawmaker ever, since he wasn’t really, but the fact that he became the first man writing the codes of law of a state, after the general request of the citizens of his state. Draco was one of the ancient tyrants of antiquity; his strict and careful lifestyle and professional career made him the ideal lawmaker in the eyes of fellow Athenians. Even though he’s usually regarded as the first lawmaker in Athenian (and Greek) history, there were six men before him who had institutionalized unwritten laws and codes, but no one so far had ever specified in full details a code of law. In 621 BC and after the Athenian citizens had commissioned from him to write the state-laws, he wrote them on marble plates which were placed publicly in the Athenian Agora. These laws were so extremely strict, that even today the expression “Draconian laws” is synonymous with the severity and the strict nature of a law. Most characteristic was the quote of Plutarch to describe the specific law code who said “The laws of Draco were written with blood, not ink”
3. Cesare Beccaria
How he changed the world: Modernized Criminal Law in favor of citizens (Humanized Criminal Law)
It’s safe to say that before Cesare Beccaria Law, law was used more as a brutal weapon of punishment rather than a wise and sophisticated tool to reform criminals or their smooth reset in society. As we all know local authorities and church back then all over Europe were more brutal and inhumane than the worse criminals. Beccaria was one of the first men who tried to change that and his works are considered the foundations of our modern (and more humanist) Criminal Law. Beccaria was heavily influenced from the ideas of the French Enlightenment and he tried to trespass these ideas in his law field from a really young age. His book “On Crimes and Punishments” which condemned death penalty, arbitrary local authorities and torture shook the world and influenced most great minds of his era such as Voltaire. This book became one of the most translated in the world back then and it would even get translated and circulated in the US, where John Adams and President Thomas Jefferson referred to is as “The second Bible”.
How he changed the world: The main figure of The Classic Roman Laws and Works
Cicero was a great rhetorician, politician, philosopher and jurist who lived and worked in Rome. He was educated by Ancient Greek scholars and was introduced to Solon and Lycurgus from a young age. He’s considered the greatest and main figure of what is known today as Latin Prose. The writings of Cicero constitute one of the most impressive bodies of historical, legal and philosophical works in all of classical antiquity while the legacy and work he left behind is probably the richest from all ancient jurists. His recorded speeches reach the astonishing number of 107, while only 58 survived and remain today. Seven technological written works that consist of seven theoretical books focusing on the art of rhetoric, 13 philosophy books that were based on the Ancient Greek philosophical sources and numerous legal, political and rhetorical epistles consist the astonishing work and life of one of the greatest figures from any field of the ancient world.
How he changed the world: Father of Western Law
If you exclude Hammurabi, Draco and Lycurgus who preexisted Solon, all the rest great minds and jurists of this list had a common thing. They were all heavily influenced by the man that is widely considered the father of law: Solon.
Solon was an Athenian lawmaker, philosopher and one of the Seven Sages of Antiquity. He replaced the extremely harsh Draconian laws of the Athenian state with his law codes which would consist the base of Athenian Democracy. He was the first man who conceived the term and idea of law as a scientific field that should be studied and researched in depth, just like mathematics. It would be quite impossible to record in such a short article the contributions and works of Solon on the law field, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that Solon gave birth to what would later be called Public, Civil, Private, Administrative, Criminal and Commercial Law, which is the main reason he’s considered the father of law as a whole.