It was never the object of those [patent] laws to grant a monopoly for every trifling device, every shadow of a shade of an idea, which would naturally and spontaneously occur to any skilled mechanic or operator in the ordinary progress of manufactures. Such an indiscriminate creation of exclusive privileges tends rather to obstruct than to stimulate invention. It creates a class of speculative schemers who make it their business to watch the advancing wave of improvement, and gather its foam in the form of patented monopolies, which enable them to lay a heavy tax upon the industry of the country, without contributing anything to the real advancement of the arts. It embarrasses the honest pursuit of business with fears and apprehensions of concealed liens and unknown liabilities lawsuits and vexatious accountings for profits made in good faith.
—American Judge, 1882
Just a reminder- Stupid patents were stupid in 1882, and are still stupid today. Lawyers (as a class, not as individuals) aren’t that great either. Fundamentally, if two lawyers are ever talking, one of them is always wrong.
The setup for the “kill the lawyers” statement is the ending portion of a comedic relief part of a scene in Henry VI, part 2. Dick and another henchman, Smith are members of the gang of Jack Cade, a pretender to the throne. The built-up is long portion where Cade make vain boasts, which are cut down by sarcastic replies from the others. For example:
JACK CADE. Valiant I am.
SMITH [aside]. ‘A must needs; for beggary is valiant.
JACK CADE. I am able to endure much.
DICK [aside]. No question of that; for I have seen him whipp’d three market-days together.
JACK CADE. I fear neither sword nor fire.
SMITH [aside]. He need not fear the sword; for his coat is of proof.
DICK [aside]. But methinks he should stand in fear of fire, being burnt i’ th’hand for stealing of sheep.
You can almost hear the rim-shot after everything Dick or Smith say here.
Cade proceeds to go more and more over the top, and begins to describe his absurd ideal world:
JACK CADE. Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven half-penny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hoop’d pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass: and when I am king,- as king I will be,-
ALL. God save your majesty!
Appreciated and encouraged, he continues on in this vein:
JACK CADE. I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.
And here is where Dick speaks the famous line.
DICK. The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
The audience must have doubled over in laughter at this. Far from “eliminating those who might stand in the way of a contemplated revolution” or portraying lawyers as “guardians of independent thinking”, it’s offered as the best feature imagined of yet for utopia. It’s hilarious. A very rough and simplistic modern translation would be “When I’m the King, there’ll be two cars in every garage, and a chicken in every pot” “AND NO LAWYERS”.