Column: We should observe Jan. 6 in addition to July 4

A man, wearing a patriotic colored Guy Fawkes mask and holding an American flag, joins a small group of protesters near the Manhattan District Attorney's office, Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in New York, in an anticipation of former President Donald Trump's possible indictment. A New York grand jury investigating Trump over a hush money payment to a porn star appears poised to complete its work soon as law enforcement officials make preparations for possible unrest in the event of an indictment. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

A man, wearing a patriotic colored Guy Fawkes mask and holding an American flag, joins a small group of protesters near the Manhattan District Attorney's office, Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in New York, in an anticipation of former President Donald Trump's possible indictment. A New York grand jury investigating Trump over a hush money payment to a porn star appears poised to complete its work soon as law enforcement officials make preparations for possible unrest in the event of an indictment. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez) ap file photograph — Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

A person with a Guy Fawkes mask appears at a protest held in Collect Pond Park, Tuesday, April 4, 2023, across the street from the Manhattan District Attorney's office in New York. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

A person with a Guy Fawkes mask appears at a protest held in Collect Pond Park, Tuesday, April 4, 2023, across the street from the Manhattan District Attorney's office in New York. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah) Stefan Jeremiah

FILE - Rioters supporting President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021.(AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

FILE - Rioters supporting President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021.(AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File) ap file photograph — Julio Cortez

FILE - Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. Law enforcement officials say, Taylor Taranto, a man wanted for crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has been arrested in the Washington neighborhood where former President Barack Obama lives. Taranto was seen a few blocks from the former president's home, and he fled even though he was chased by U.S. Secret Service agents. (AP Photo/Jose Luis...

FILE - Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. Law enforcement officials say, Taylor Taranto, a man wanted for crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has been arrested in the Washington neighborhood where former President Barack Obama lives. Taranto was seen a few blocks from the former president's home, and he fled even though he was chased by U.S. Secret Service agents. (AP Photo/Jose Luis... ap file photograph — Jose Luis Magana

Randall Balmer. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Randall Balmer. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By RANDALL BALMER

For the Valley News

Published: 07-01-2023 10:04 PM

As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, July Fourth, let’s consider the possibility of another holiday. The United States should designate Jan. 6 as an annual Day of Remembrance, modeled on Guy Fawkes Day in Great Britain.

On Nov. 5, 1605, British authorities arrested Guy Fawkes, a rabid anti-Protestant who was part of what became known as the Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes was guarding a cache of explosives beneath the House of Lords, part of a scheme to assassinate James VI of Scotland, who in 1603 had consented to become James I of Great Britain.

James, coming from Scotland, which was dominated by Presbyterians, was Protestant, though not as ardent as the Puritans hoped he would be. On his way to Whitehall to assume the British throne in 1603, James was intercepted by a contingent of Puritans, who presented him with the Millenary Petition, a set of demands putatively signed by a thousand Puritans.

They wanted to purge — or purify — all vestiges of Roman Catholicism from the Church of England. They sought stricter observance of the Sabbath as well as the elimination of bishops and certain liturgical vestments, especially surplices. The only major demand that met with the new king of Great Britain’s approval was a fresh translation of the Bible into English, which was completed and released in 1611 as the Authorized Version, better known as the King James Version.

Catholics, having been held at bay during the reign of Elizabeth I, were not happy with James I, her successor, who they hoped would be more tolerant of Roman Catholicism. A group of radical Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, hatched the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the House of Lords, assassinate the Protestant king and install a Catholic head of state more friendly to Roman Catholicism.

An anonymous letter alerted authorities to the conspiracy, however, prompting a search of the Palace of Westminster on the evening of Nov. 4, 1605. Authorities found Fawkes in the undercroft beneath the House of Lords, guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder, more than enough to destroy the building.

The grateful people of Britain celebrated their deliverance with bonfires and fireworks. What became known as Gunpowder Treason Day or Guy Fawkes Day was soon an annual observance. The Church of England added a new service to its Book of Common Prayer for use on Nov. 5.

Does any of this sound familiar? Let’s dispense with the religious and especially the anti-Catholic dimensions of Guy Fawkes Day; the bonfires and the burning of effigies seem unnecessarily, well, incendiary. But Britain nevertheless has provided a pretty good model for how we should remember — and celebrate — the deliverance of our republic from the thugs who sought to destroy it on Jan. 6, 2021.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Kenyon: How much do Upper Valley landlords have to raise rents to stay in business?
Goose Pond drawdown alters landscape
Lebanon halts paving of Miracle Mile due to asphalt mistake
Residents question Hartford’s payout to former superintendent
Editorial: Hartford school officials need to explain superintendent's departure
Microbrewery proposes tasting room for downtown Enfield

Given the Republican control of the House of Representatives, I don’t expect federal action on a January 6 Day of Remembrance anytime soon. Some members of Congress persist in asserting, contrary to all evidence, that the storming of the U.S. Capitol by domestic terrorists was nothing more than a visitation of tourists.

“Let’s be honest with the American people,” said Andrew Clyde, a Republican from Georgia serving his first term in Congress, “it was not an insurrection, and we cannot call it that and be truthful.”

In its current configuration, Congress won’t act. But there’s nothing stopping blue states from instituting a Day of Remembrance celebrating the survival of the rule of law and our deliverance from mob violence. It needn’t entail a holiday from work, but Jan. 6 should be an annual occasion for sober reflection on both the durability of our democracy as well as how close we came to losing it.

One final note: The wheels of justice turn much more slowly today than they did centuries ago. Fawkes and seven co-conspirators stood trial less than three months after the Gunpowder Plot was discovered. All were convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

By no means am I advocating capital punishment, but I take some comfort from the fact that many of the insurrectionists of Jan. 6 are finally being brought to justice. Perhaps the conspirator-in-chief, who exhorted his followers to “fight like hell” to overturn the 2020 election, will soon join their ranks.

Americans will always remember and celebrate July 4, as we should. But we should also remember and celebrate Jan. 6.

Randall Balmer teaches at Dartmouth College.