Research Handbook on the History of Corporate and Company Law
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Research Handbook on the History of Corporate and Company Law

Edited by Harwell Wells

Understanding the corporation means understanding its legal framework, but until recently the origins and evolution of corporate law have received relatively little attention. The topical chapters featured in this Research Handbook, contributed by leading scholars from around the world, examine the historical development of corporation and business organization law in the Americas, Europe, and Asia from the ancient world to modern times, providing an invaluable resource for both further historical research and scholars seeking the origins of present-day issues.
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Chapter 9: Change for continuity: the making of the société anonyme in nineteenth century France

Jean Rochat

Abstract

Chapter 9 surveys the development of the corporation in France—the société anonyme (SA)—from its initial appearance in the Code de Commerce of 1807 to the Act of 1867 that allowed it to be formed by simple registration. While earlier accounts have presented the appearance of the SA as a radical departure from previous business models, the author, Jean Rochat, argues that the SA as developed in 1807 was continuance of the older form of chartered company, a form used since the seventeenth century. It was between 1807 and the 1860s—while the law remained static—that the SA as an institution gradually changed from an organization chiefly intended for a limited range of activities and imbued with a public purpose, to an organizational form utilized by the businesses typical of large-scale capitalism, notably railroads. Significant legal changes in 1863 and 1867, in this telling, were largely intended to recognize in legislation the social and case-law developments that had occurred over the previous half-century. This chapter not only revises our understanding of French corporate development in the nineteenth century, replacing an account of radical discontinuities with one of gradual change, it also suggests that the sharp division made by some between rigid civil law, fixed in statutes, and flexible common law, developed in cases, is overblown.

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