Monday, November 05, 2007

Election and Guy Fawkes

Fascinating! Scott Horton, the stunningly erudite blogger for Harper's Magazine, is one of my daily must-reads. In today's entry, he writes about November 5th - Guy Fawkes Day (or, as it may now be known, V-for-Vendetta-Day). This is a big day/night in England what I know of the day from my life, the V movie, and from Horton, it's a day mixed up with English history, torture, terrorism, and freedom.

Horton points out that in 1775 George Washington, while he was the true Commander in Chief, forbade the army from celebrating Guy Fawkes Night with the traditional minhag of burning the Pope in effigy. GW felt it was insulting to our allies, the Canadians, and just an odious practice in general. Horton quotes the "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.
Gotta love the real George W.

The extra fascinating thing is that Horton suggests that Washington purposefully replaced Guy Fawkes Day with a better, American, custom: Election Day! I will do more research to see if there's proof for this (the Wiki denies it, but if Horton's right, I'll fix the page).

Update: This webpage supports it. It quotes from: Election Day in New York, by Ernest Ingersoll: pp. 3-16, p. 81 in The Century; a popular quarterly. Volume 53, Issue 1 (The Century Company Nov 1896 New York):
The moment the polls close the liquor-sa-loons open,....The streets overflow with boys who hardly wait for the earliest dark-ness to institute their picturesque part of the day’s doings. The New York citizen be-gins to break election-day laws as soon as he can toddle about the block. Bonfires are strictly prohibited, yet thousands of them redden the air and set all the windows aglow before seven o’clock. Antiquarians inform us that this custom is nothing but a survival in America of the old English celebration of burning Guy Fawkes on the 5th of November, in recollec-tion of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which the children have transferred to the mov-able feast of our election day.
(emphasis mine)

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