Laws – Customs – Conventions: French Merchants and French Legal Doctrines in the Brazilian Law Courts in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

Sonkajärvi, Hanna (2019)

In: Gialdroni, Stefania/Cordes, Albrecht/Dauchy, Serge/Deruysscher, Dave/Pihlajamäki, Heikki (eds.): Migrating Words, Migrating Merchants, Migrating Law. Trading Routes and the Development of Commercial Law. Leiden: Brill.

“The second half of the nineteenth century coincided, in Brazil, with the introduction of the first Código Comercial (1850) which was inspired by French legal doctrine and a substantial immigration of French merchants, many of them of Jewish origin. A number of these immigrants actively relied on their relatives in France to conduct their businesses in Brazil. Also, numerous foreign firms operated in imperial Brazil through local business partners or agents tasked with carrying out business on behalf of their paymasters. In this context, legal conflicts would arise that needed to be settled in the Brazilian law courts, which were starting to apply the new Commercial Code. The paper offers a micro-historical analysis of the initial phases of bankruptcy litigation (conciliation and arbitration) and, within these proceedings, the expertise of arbiters in the verification of merchants’ account books. It will focus on commercial litigation between French and local commercial actors and on the reception of French legal doctrines by various legal actors (judges, lawyers and litigants) in 1850s and 1860s Brazil. Even though social practises linked to the merchants’ belonging to a French (and Jewish) communities, legal instruments such as French notarial records, and French legal doctrines, are visible in the sources provided by court records, the weight of this French influence upon legal practice should not be overestimated. Instead, what seems to have mattered more than ethnic or religious belonging, or the use of a certain set of legal instruments, was the embeddedness of the respective merchants, their creditors and the merchant-arbitrators in a given local setting of social- and business networks.”