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The Golden Oldies
You would expect a law against lawyers accepting bribes, but in 240 B.C., Rome passed a law prohibiting lawyers from accepting fees.
The punishment for tree mutilation in ancient Germany was death.
Speaking of strange laws, Puritans in the 1600s made it illegal for anyone to celebrate Christmas. They believed that gifts, carols, and decorations were incompatible with the Christian life, which should be plain and grim. (Considering what the holiday has since become, maybe they had the right idea.)
European colonists in nineteenth-century Brazil passed a law exempting "white people" from execution, no matter what their crimes. Authorities found a simple solution while following the letter of the law: they dyed condemned Caucasians blue before executing them.
By law, under Peter the Great, all Russian men sporting long whiskers had to pay special taxes on them.
Hey, now it can cost an arm and a leg! Hammurabi's Code of Law, enacted in 1780 B.C. in Babylon, dictated that a doctor found guilty of malpractice was to have his hands chopped off.
"The aim of the law is not to punish sins."
—Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
We all scream for ice cream
The ice cream sundae is the ingenious concoction of a midwestern druggist who was trying to skirt the law. Blue Laws of the 1890s dictated that ice cream sodas were not to be served on Sunday because of the belief that soda water was an intoxicant. One creative fellow poured the flavored syrups straight over ice cream without any soda at all. It worked! People fell in love with a new—and legal—treat. In honor of the law that spawned it, the dessert was dubbed "Sunday," and eventually "Sundae."
Early on in baseball, Blue Laws were strictly followed: Baseball wasn't even played on Sunday until 1933. When the leagues did decide to play on Sunday, it wasn't because the laws were no longer in place. Scheduling demands simply made it worth ignoring or, if necessary, fighting the morality laws of the individual states.
The first record of the term "Blue Laws" was found in a 1762 anonymous pamphlet by the lengthy name of "The Real Advantages Which Ministers and People May Enjoy, Especially in the Colonies, by Conforming to the Church of England."
Why were morality laws called Blue Laws? Anglican minister and early colonist Samuel Peters brought the Blue Laws in Connecticut to light in England in his wildly erroneous book General History of Connecticut (1782). In it, Peters claimed these laws were called "blue" as a derivation on the phrase "bloody laws." This, of course, was pure bunk (as were most of the laws he claimed existed). Actually, it's believed they were called Blue Laws because the paper they were printed on may have been blue.
What were some of the completely fictitious Blue Laws listed in Samuel Peters' book? How about, "That no woman should kiss her child on Sabbath or Fasting-day," or "That every male should have his hair cut round, according to a cap." Also, "Married persons must live together or be imprisoned," and most shocking: "No food or lodging shall be afforded to a Quaker, Adamite, or other Heretic."
How Dry I Am
If you wanted to drink legally during Prohibition, you got "sick." The 18th Amendment prohibited the use of alcohol for "beverage purposes," but medicinal purposes were well within the law. Doctors liberally prescribed medicines containing alcohol.
"They can never repeal it," bragged Senator Andrew Volstead, regarding Prohibition in 1920s America. It was, thankfully, gone thirteen years later.
The 18th Amendment is the only constitutional amendment in American history that's been repealed. The 21st, therefore, is unique as well, in that it's the only amendment in history that exists for the sole purpose of repealing another.
Leaving Japan was strictly forbidden in the seventeenth century. Immigration into the country was also, for the most part, prohibited. Breaking the immigration laws was punishable by death.
People are surprised to hear that the southern state of Georgia passed the very first antilynching law in the United States in the late 1880s. The sentence for anyone breaking the law, however, was a mere four years in jail.
According to the books of silly laws, Oklahoma lawmakers placed a ban on whale hunting in any of the state's waters.
The U.S. Army once depended on camels to carry supplies for long distances through American deserts. A law making it illegal to hunt camels in Arizona is still on the books.
An early Poor Law on the slates of Connecticut once stated outright, "Any poor children who live idly or are exposed to want or distress" should be hauled off to work as apprentices until twenty-one if male and until eighteen or marriage if female. Giving children "honest labor" was considered charitable (well, profitable, too) prior to the twentieth century.
In 1925, the state of Tennessee prosecuted teacher John Scopes for the "crime" of teaching the theory of evolution in school. The law was not repealed until 1967, forty three years after the famous legal battle.
During World War II, it was illegal in Germany to name a horse "Adolf."
In 1401, the English Parliament decreed, with violation of the law to be punished by burning alive, that no citizen may have a copy of the Bible in English.
The Red Flag Act (1836–1896) of England prevented all self-propelled vehicles from driving through town unless a man carrying a red flag preceded the vehicle. A lantern was to be used after dark. This law did what lawmakers had hoped: It virtually stopped all automobile traffic (and industry advancements, for that matter) until after 1896, when the law was changed.
The Vatican in 1139 outlawed crossbows for humanitarian reasons. The only exception being when used against Muslims.
The Scots, recognizing the archery was crucial for civil defense, outlawed golf in 1457 because they were afraid people were playing golf instead of practicing for war. They did it again during WW II, needing the raw materials that were being used to manufacture golf balls.
In France it was once strictly against ordinance to mention Napoleon's favorite flower—the violet—in public.
In Chicago, home of many major pinball manufacturers, playing pinball was illegal up until 1976.
It Takes Two, Baby: "One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."
Besides the stove, bifocals, and the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was also known for advocating the elimination of the legal ban on bathing. Puritans had made bathing illegal on the grounds that nudity of any kind was a sin.
Thank you, Oliver Cromwell.... Christmas, plum pudding, and mince pie were made illegal in England in 1647.
Ten-pin bowling as we know it today was the result of skirting the laws that prohibited the original game of Nine Pins.
In the first mandate of its kind, the Massachusetts School Law made it a requirement of any town having more than fifty families to set up a school. A stiff fine of $5 was slapped on any town not obeying the law. This was in colonial America, in 1647.
Nine years earlier, in 1638, the Virginia legislature had passed a law outlawing lawyers.
"Lawyers are jackals."
—Erasmus, Dutch philosopher and theologian (1466–1536)
"Lawyers are a learned class of very ignorant men."
—Erasmus, Dutch philosopher and theologian (1466–1536)
"A good lawyer is a great liar." "A lawyer is a conscience for hire."
—Fyodor Dostoevsky, writer
"Being a good robber is like being a good lawyer."
—Willie Sutton, bank robber
"If laws could speak, they'd complain of the lawyers."
—George Saville, Marquess of Halifax (1633–1695)
"He is no lawyer who cannot take two sides."
—Charles Lamb, author
"If it weren't for the lawyers, we wouldn't need them."
—William Jennings Bryan, famous lawyer
"I used to be a lawyer, but now I am reformed."
—President Woodrow Wilson
"The first thing we do," says a character in the middle of King Henry VI, part 2, "let's kill all the lawyers."
"Lawyers, I suppose, were children once."
—Charles Lamb, writer
As to the lawyer, Seneca once wrote, "He lets out for hire his anger and his speech."
We don't like to bring it up, but there are some bottom-feeder sorts of lawyers for whom very interesting and descriptive names have been invented, including ambulance chaser, jackleg lawyer, latrine lawyer, pettifogger, lawmonger, and ambidexter.
"Have you noticed how much those who deal in absolutes—magistrates, policemen, priests—are generally quite humorless?"
—Hubert Monteilhet, French author
You may be familiar with the name for an unscrupulous lawyer, Shyster, but where did it come from? Most likely from long ago when shy meant "disreputable."
Dean Roscoe Pound of Harvard Law School noted that "every Utopia has been designed to dispense with lawyers."
Even Jesus found it hard to love lawyers. Luke 11:52 quotes this tirade: "Woe unto you, lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge."
Poor Piggies: "Most lawyers are swine," said San Francisco Chronicle columnist Charles McCabe. "And not even nice swine."
"Law school is the opposite of sex. Even when it's good it's lousy."
Oh, That H. L.!: "Courtroom: A place where Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot would be equals, with the betting odds in favor of Judas," pronounced satirist H. L. Mencken.
"Lawyers spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke."
—Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., lawyer
"What is an attorney but a college graduate who couldn't get into medical school?"
—Major Charles Emerson Winchester, in the television show M*A*S*H
From the American Legion magazine: "The problem with lawyer jokes is that lawyers don't think they're funny, and everyone else doesn't think that they're jokes."
It's all an illusion. Magician Houdini once commented on lawyers, "They do tricks even I can't figure out."
Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, A Lawyer's Life for Me
"Lawyers must go to school for years and years, often with little sleep and with great sacrifice to their first wives."
—Roy G. Blout Jr., humorist
Puzzling: "If you think that you can think about a thing, inextricably attached to something else, without thinking of the thing it is attached to, then you have a legal mind," says Thomas Reed Powell, legal writer.
Thomas More is the patron saint of lawyers.
St. John's Wort is an old herbal remedy for depression. It was first discovered in the seventeenth century by lawyers.
Richard Pryor is credited with coining the term "MoFo" as a shortened version of a taboo slang term. It caused a great deal of consternation at the international law firm of Morrison & Foerster, which had been using "MoFo" as its nickname for nearly a hundred years.
"Lawyers and tarts are the two oldest professions in the world. And we always aim to please."
—Horace Rumpole, the fictional lawyer in the book Rumpole of the Bailey
Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a famous duel. Their earlier relationship planted the seed of mutual animosity: They were law partners.
"Whatever their other contributions to our society, lawyers could be an important source of protein."
—Caption from the late, great Guindon comic strip
According to the folklore of Silesa, any child born on Christmas Day will likely become either a lawyer or a thief.
The North American black-necked stilt is also known as the "lawyer" bird because, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of its identifying features is "a large bill."
The mechanical shark in the movie Jaws had the nickname "Bruce." He was named after Steven Spielberg's lawyer Bruce Ramer.
No Surprises Here: The first victim eaten by a dinosaur in the Spielberg movie Jurassic Park was the lawyer.
"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law, And argued each case with my wife; And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw, Has lasted the rest of my life."
—Lewis Carroll, "You Are Old, Father William"
The patron saint of law schools is Raymond of Peñafort.
Graduate statistics bear out that the older you are when you graduate from law school, the more likely you are to take a job with a university rather than a job with a private firm or a corporation.
Of an estimated 25,000 law graduates in Japan who take the bar exam each year, only about 700 pass.
"In university, they don't tell you that the greater part of the law is learning to tolerate fools."
—Doris Lessing, novelist
According to a recent poll in Bartender magazine, lawyers tied with doctors as the worst tippers.
Deuteronomy's the specific book of the Holy Book that a wannabe Israelite law student would study before taking the bar exam. It's the Hebrew book of instruction and contains Jewish law as handed down from God to Moses.
Let's say your law firm's phone number spells something like 1-800-SUE-THEM. That's called a "numeronym."
One dreaded Mexican curse goes something like this: "May your life be filled with lawyers."
"It is the trade of lawyers to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour."
Have you heard of the "lawyer fish"? A member of the cod family, lawyer fish are found in swampy, murky regions of North America and are characterized by barbels (whiskers) on their noses and chins. If you catch one, be careful! Even while hooked they can easily wrap their bodies around your arm and squeeze it in a death-like grip ... not unlike some of the humans who share their name.
Author Edna St. Vincent Millay clearly rather liked lawyers ... down deep, anyway. She once said, "Lawyers are lambs in wolves' clothing."
"A FAIR FEE FOR SERVICES RENDERED Four sheep, a hog and ten bushels of wheat settled an Iowa breach of promise suit where $25,000 damages were demanded. The lawyers got all but the hog, which died before they could drive it away."
—Article in the Cheyenne Leader, January 14, 1888
Don't Know Much about History
Ancient Athens chose representatives (all men) for its 500-seat lawmaking body—the Council—by lottery. Each man served for a year until the next lottery was held.
The first medical malpractice lawsuit on record—a plaintiff alleging that an inept physician maimed his hand—took place nearly 650 years ago in England.
There was a law that changed the mile officially from 5,000 feet to 5,280 feet, or exactly 8 furlongs. Queen Elizabeth I passed it in 1575, when furlongs actually meant something.
A fundamental part of the Constitution of South Carolina—a section on religious freedom—was drafted by noted English philosopher John Locke.
Truth as a defense against libel came after Peter Zenger attacked Governor William Cosby in 1733 of (among other things) having foul denture breath.
Lawyer John Adams was an American patriot who emphatically opposed the British crown. Still, his sense of justice led him to defend four British soldiers who were accused of shooting into an angry mob of American rioters during the Boston Massacre. While defending themselves against the mob, the soldiers killed four Americans. Adams managed to get two of them acquitted; the other two were convicted of manslaughter. Adams feared his actions would cost him popularity—he'd initially received threats and been met with public disapproval—but that didn't happen. Justice prevailed: In 1770, the people of Boston chose him as one of their representatives in the colonial legislature, and he was eventually elected as the United States' second president.
The two British soldiers who were convicted of manslaughter for killing four Americans were sentenced to having their thumbs branded with a hot iron. Since the twelfth century in England and from the beginning of the American court system, branding of the thumb was the common judicial sentencing for convicted men who claimed "benefit of clergy." That meant they claimed a life-changing religious conversion since their crimes were committed. This plea could only be used once by laymen. The burnt thumb would signify to any future judge and court that they'd been given the benefit of the doubt once; excuses the next time around wouldn't be heard. The practice ended in America in the 1790s.
The average age of the deputies to America's Constitutional Convention in 1787 was about forty-four. The youngest was New Jersey's Jonathan Dayton at twentysix. The oldest was Pennsylvania's Benjamin Franklin, so infirm at eighty-one he had to be carried around in a sedan chair. Both signed the Constitution.
Excerpted from Dracula Was a Lawyer by ERIN BARRETT, JACK MINGO. Copyright © 2002 Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/ Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
one The Golden Oldies
two Fightin' Words
three Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, A Lawyer's Life for Me
four Don't Know Much about History
five Skirting the Law
six Barnyard Briefs
seven It's the Law!
eight Larger than Life
nine Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged
ten Courtside Seats
twelve Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
thirteen I Fought the Law and the Law Won
fourteen Justice, Injustice, and Everything in Between
fifteen The Root of All Evil
sixteen Law by the Numbers
seventeen Life Outside the Law
eighteen Take It from Me ...
About the Authors