Monday, March 3, 2014

Freedom for Me, Burning Effigies for Thee
My reading continues to educate me historically.  Recently I learned about the American Revolution's use of young boys as shock troops against Loyalists, which led to the martyrdom of at least one ten-year-old  Now I'm reading John Fea's Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? (Westminster John Knox, 2011).   Fea's an Associate Professor of American History at Messiah College, a Christian college in Pennsylvania.  Judging from his remarks in the book, I gather that Fea is an evangelical Christian, probably fairly conservative, but he is a good historian, and Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? is an accessible discussion of that question for non-historians.

My attention was snagged by part of Fea's discussion of George Washington's personal religion.  Washington was surely a Christian, but he was an intensely private man and didn't wave his faith around in public.  In one step "designed to end religious persecution and enhance religious freedom":
While the Continental Army was engaged in Boston in 1775 Washington banned his soldiers from participating in Pope’s Day, a popular anti-Catholic holiday in New England that featured, among other things, burning effigies of the Pope [189].
Why had I never heard of this grand old American Protestant tradition before?  The things that get left out of the history books!  It turns out that Pope's Day, or Pope Day, was what Guy Fawkes Night became in the American colonies, and it died out after the Revolution.  Washington's prohibition of his soldiers' participation in the festivities speaks well for his commitment to religious tolerance.  The existence of this holiday is also a reminder that "papists" were widely considered beyond the pale where religious toleration was concerned in the colonies and early America.