George Washington and Guy Fawkes Day

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Scott Horton relays a nugget of history I never knew. Today is Guy Fawkes Day, when the British commemmorate the foiling of a religiously-inspired terrorist plot to blow up the House of Commons in 1605. Eventually, it became a holiday fused with anti-Catholic propaganda, and the way in which Fawkes was needlessly tortured, and the monarchy fanned fear of Catholic terrorism to entrench absolute power tarnished the meaning of the holiday. So George Washington banned its celebration in the United States:

America was involved in a struggle for its liberty, and the commemoration of Guy Fawkes stood for the opposite: government by fear, oppression of a minority, a celebration of arbitrary power. Guy Fawkes Day was the abnegation of the essential values of the Revolution. So the original George W. put it in an order: no more Guy Fawkes Day.

Order in Quarters issued by General George Washington, November 5, 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope–He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.

America, it was settled, would mark the old Guy Fawkes Day with a new tradition: the exercise of the Democratic Franchise. It was to be the day on which the rulers are held accountable to the people.

From revulsion against torture, liberal democracy was born. And by acquiescing in torture, liberal democracy will die.

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