Guy Fawkes’ Night in America

Published: November 5, 2013

“Remember, remember the 5th of November; Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot.”

Tonight is Guy Fawkes’ Night in the UK – an annual commemoration of the failed 1605 plot by English Catholics to blow up Parliament and kill the Protestant King, James I. But Americans used to “remember” the 5th of November too.

After the Glorious Revolution of 1689, in which a Protestant monarchy was firmly established, Guy Fawkes’ Night came to be celebrated as a Royal Holiday throughout Britain and the colonies. It was especially popular in New England, where it was known as “Pope’s Night.” In Boston, it became a rowdy and unabashedly anti-Catholic event, complete with warring street gangs, bonfires, and papal effigies (The Bostonian Society has a great account of the festivities). George Washington even forbade soldiers of the Continental Army from celebrating it in 1775, while encamped in Boston, for fear its anti-Catholic message would alienate French sympathies for the American cause.

While the celebrations of “Pope’s Night” gradually died out after the revolution, the anti-Catholicism it reflected long continued to be an important force in American life.

Image: Broadside celebrating “Pope-Night,” printed in Boston, 1768. From the Library of Congress time capsule project.

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  1. john ledbury

    Surely it was not Catholicism per se that was reviled but the Absolutist politics that Catholicism expresses? Europe loves its absolute monarchs, from the Roman Emperors to the Infallible Popes, Louis 14, Napoleon, Hitler – all the stuff they invented America to get away from. Today we have European Absolutism back in the form of the European Union which is run by an Infallible Commission which hands down the laws to the nation states (and is in the process of abolishing the nation states – it has currently taken over the budgets of Italy and Spain. (All the institutions are in place in Europe, we’re just waiting for the next ‘strong man’ to come along and make use of them.) I find the diminishing attention given to Guy Fawkes Night here in England, and its replacement by Hallowe’en. very depressing.