Monday, November 5, 2007

Guy Fawkes Day

By Drew

Today is Guy Fawkes Day (or, as Wikipedia points out, more appropriately Guy Fawkes Night), which at least at the outset represented one of the most anti-Catholic commemorations you could imagine. As Richard Brookhiser points out over at NRO, "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."

Which is why it's nice to be reminded once again that, while there are certainly contradictions among the Founding Fathers with regard to their opinions on religion, they understood the importance of religion in the lives of the colonists, and the respect that it was due. As Brookhiser continues,

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.

Brookhiser notes that of all the Founders, the one prominent anti-Catholic was John Jay. He tried to have anti-Catholic provisions in New York's first constituion but was stopped by Gouverneur Morris. It wasn't that Morris was a particular friend of Catholics; he "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."

"[B]eyond the reach of the state" - in other words, as many of us have said for a long time, the separation of church and state was designed to protect the church as much as, if not more than, the state. A revisionist viewpoint, that. But this does go to show the greatness and the vision of the Founders, who understood much more clearly the nature of this country they created than did the leaders who inherited it from them.

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