The First Thing We Do, Let's Love All the Lawyers

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We
all know the famous phrase from Henry VI, Part II, “The first
thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.” This is often cited as
proof that Shakespeare despised lawyers and is often quoted by individuals
to show disdain of the services that lawyers offer.

My
reading of the play, however, indicates that in the context in which
this statement was made, Shakespeare was actually praising lawyers
and especially their protection of the individual’s property and
personal liberty.

Shakespeare’s
play describes the conflict between the House of Lancaster and the
House of York, which is known in history as the “Wars of the Roses.”

Because
the House of York believed that it had a better claim to the crown,
York decides to stir up a rebellion and in Act III Scene I, he admits
that he has “seduced a headstrong Kentishman, John Cade of Ashford
to make a commotion, as full well he can.” The purpose is to start
a rebellion and therefore start a war in which York can assert his
claim.

In
Act IV Scene II, Cade is discussing how they will start the war
and begin oppression of the people by taking away their property
and individual liberty but his collaborator, by the name of Dick,
states that “The first thing we do, lets kill all the lawyers.”
The context in which this is stated is that if you are going to
oppress the people you need to kill the lawyers first.

March
4, 2002

John
V. Denson [send him mail],
editor of The
Costs of War
and Reassessing
the Presidency
, is a defense lawyer.

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needs your help to stay on the air.

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