This Day in History, 1775: George Washington Condemns His Own Troops


Who is Guy Fawkes? You may recognize Fawkes by the mask of his image, which gained revivalist fame during the Occupy Wall Street movement earlier this century.

Fawkes is best known as the Catholic British "terrorist" who was captured in 1605 while attempting to blow up Parliament in order to kill King James I and install Catholic Princess Elizabeth in his stead. The plan failed. Fawkes was captured and the Gunpowder Plot foiled. British patriots went on to celebrate the 5th of November by burning Fawkes' and the pope's image in effigy.

But that wasn't such a great activity for the colonists, as George Washington saw it. He had a revolution to conduct, and the revolutionaries celebrating a British victory that would alienate French allies wasn't the way to do it.

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.”