On this day in 1775, Continental Army commander in chief General George Washington condemns his troops’ planned celebration of the British anti-Catholic holiday, Guy Fawkes Night, as he was simultaneously struggling to win French-Canadian Catholics to the Patriot cause.
In his general orders for the day, Washington criticized “that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope,” part of the traditional Guy Fawkes celebration. He went on to express his bewilderment that there could be “Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense” and berated the troops for their inability to recognize that “defence [sic] of the general Liberty of America” demanded expressions of “public thanks” to the Canadian Catholics who Washington believed to be necessary allies, and wrote that he found “monstrous” any actions, which might “be insulting their Religion.”
On the night of November 5, 1605, the conspiracy by English Catholics to kill King James I and replace him with his Catholic daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was cut short by the arrest of Guy Fawkes, who had been charged with placing gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament. The plot involved digging a tunnel under the Palace of Westminster, filling it with gunpowder and then triggering a deadly explosion during the ceremonial opening of Parliament, which would have resulted in the death of not only James I, but also the leading Protestant nobility. From then on, November 5 was celebrated in Britain and its colonies with a bonfire burning either Guy Fawkes or the pope in effigy.