So, today’s the Fifth of November, as in the verse:
Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason, and plot
I know of no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
In Britain, people remember this event as a victory of the government over the traitor Guy Fawkes, who was trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Kids hang up stuffed effigies of Guy Fawkes from trees and burn them every year on the fifth of November. (And they have fireworks.)
But as Americans, and even as British people today, aren’t we really on the side of Guy Fawkes? He was trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament because he and his friends felt the King had too much power, and the rich lords didn’t have enough power. Do you think you would have been on the side of the king, or on the side of the lords? Guy Fawkes failed, but the lords kept trying. After King James died, they succeeded in killing his son, King Charles. That led to the first Commonwealth or Republic in England. The United States got a lot of its ideas from that Commonwealth, for our government.
That is, Guy Fawkes was on the same side that men like John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton were on later. Like him, they fought against the King of England.
Or are we against Guy Fawkes after all?
To take the other side, though, the Brits are on the side of the king, against the lords. Most of the time, ordinary people like us are also on the side of the king against the lords. Lords oppress people, and the king, being only one person, usually gets his power from the support of ordinary people, which they give him because he keeps the lords in check.
To some extent, the American Revolution is a triumph of the lords over the king, right? Jefferson and those guys, they’re not the proletariat, they’re landed gentry, and they assign most of the power to themselves, not to workers. In fact, most of Jefferson’s workers remained enslaved and had no power at all. But even free white working class people had little political power immediately after the Revolution.
It’s possible to see the trend in American government over the last 250 years as gradually increasing the power of ordinary people – very much including the enslaved ones! – and also in parallel the power of the President, serving to keep the lords in check, much like the king.
In that sense, maybe we are on the side of the king, against Guy Fawkes?
Why we call people “guys”
Did you know that our habit of calling a man a “guy” comes from Guy Fawkes? People called the stuffed dolls “guys”, because they represented Guy Fawkes. Then they called anybody who looked awkward or funny a “guy”, because he looked like those stuffed dolls. After a long time, “guy” started to mean any man, and today people even use “guys” to mean all people: men, women, whatever.
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