The Corner

Guy Fawkes in the U.S.

November 5 was celebrated in New England as Pope Day (that is, Anti-Pope Day). The neighborhoods of Boston would make images of the Pope, the Jacobite Pretender, and Guy Fawkes, and burn them; there were also fun-filled brawls in which one neighborhood’s gang would try to steal the images of another.

Washington banned these festivities in his General Orders, November 5, 1775 (see the George Washington Papers website at the Library of Congress to read the original). He calls it “a ridiculous and childish custom,” especially at a time when we are “solliciting, and have readily obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada.” We were hoping to drive the British out of Canada; our effort would fail before the walls of Quebec on New Year’s Eve.

That was realpolitik; more interesting, and admirable, was the decision of Washington, and many other founders, to attend mass during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. George Mason didn’t like the ringing of the bell, which he compared to the signal for raising the curtain at a puppet show. But he, and the others, went to show that these were good Americans too.

The one prominent founder who was seriously anti-Catholic was New York’s John Jay, grandson of Hugenot refugees from Louis XIV. He tried to insert anti-Catholic provisions into New York’s first constitution, but he was blocked by his young friend Gouverneur Morris. Morris thought Catholics were superstitious, stupid, and immoral (the father of his girlfriend’s child was an RC bishop), but he thought religious belief and worship were beyond the reach of the state.

The Continental Army did not torture spies. It hanged them by the neck until dead.

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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