Charles Carroll was the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was the longest-living signer of the Declaration.
In 1772, Charles Carroll condemned the British Government’s oppressive taxes by writing in the Maryland Gazette under the pseudonym “First Citizen.” When his identity became known, the British loyalist Daniel Dulany the Younger wrote mean-spirited personal ad-hominem attacks against Charles Carroll, ridiculing him.
Charles Carroll’s statesmanlike response was to explain that because Dulany engaged in “virulent invective and illiberal abuse, we may fairly presume, that arguments are either wanting, or that ignorance or incapacity know not how to apply them.”
Charles Carroll led the Tea Party movement in Maryland. On Oct. 19, 1774, Charles Carroll helped set fire to the British ship Peggy Stewart, which was carrying tea into the Annapolis harbor.
The Continental Congress sent Charles Carroll, along with his cousin Fr. John Carroll, Ben Franklin and Samuel Chase to Canada in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade them to join in the Revolutionary cause.
Charles Carroll’s cousin, John Carroll, was the first Catholic Bishop in the United States, who founded Georgetown University.
Bishop John Carroll wrote in 1790: “In 1776, American Independence was declared, and a revolution effected, not only in political affairs, but also in those relating to Religion. For a while the thirteen provinces of North America rejected the yoke of England, they proclaimed, at the same time, freedom of conscience and the right of worshiping the Almighty, according to the spirit of the religion to which each one should belong. Before this great event, the Catholic faith had penetrated two provinces only, Maryland and Pennsylvania. In all the others the laws against Catholics were in force. Any priest coming from foreign parts, was subject to the penalty of death; all who professed the Catholic faith, were not merely excluded from offices of government, but hardly could be tolerated in a private capacity. …”
Bishop John Carroll ended: “By the Declaration of Independence, every difficulty was removed: the Catholics were placed on a level with their fellow-Christians, and every political disqualification was done away.”
Charles Carroll wrote to Rev. John Stanford on Oct. 9, 1827: “To obtain religious as well as civil liberty I entered jealously into the Revolution, and observing the Christian religion divided into many sects, I founded the hope that no one would be so predominant as to become the religion of the state. That hope was thus early entertained because all of them joined in the same cause, with few exceptions of individuals. God grant that this religious liberty may be preserved in these States, to the end of time, and that all believing in the religion of Christ may practice the leading principle of charity, the basis of every virtue.”
In 1776, knowing the British would target the signers of the Declaration, he did not want his relatives who had the same name to be mistakenly punished, so he made his identity clear by signing “Charles Carroll of Carrollton.”
As published in the National Gazette, Philadelphia, Feb. 26, 1829, Charles Carroll wrote to George Washington’s adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis, who was president of the Society of Friends of Civil and Religious Liberty in Ireland: “When I signed the Declaration of Independence I had in view not only our independence from England but the toleration of all sects professing the Christian religion and communicating to them all great rights. Happily this wise and salutary measure has taken place for eradicating religious feuds and persecution and become a useful lesson to all governments. Reflecting, as you must, on the disabilities, I may truly say, of the proscription of the Roman Catholics in Maryland, you will not be surprised that I had much at heart, this grand design founded on mutual charity, the basis of our holy religion.”
Charles Carroll was elected to the first U.S. Senate in 1789. In 1789, after George Washington was elected the first President, Charles Carroll sent him a letter of congratulations, which was also signed by other Catholic leaders, namely Bishop John Carroll, Daniel Carroll, Thomas FitzSimons of Philadelphia, and Dominick Lynch of New York: “This prospect of national prosperity is peculiarly pleasing to us, on another account; because, whilst our country preserves her freedom and independence, we shall have a well founded title to claim from her justice, the equal rights of citizenship, as the price of our blood spilt under your eyes, and of our common exertions for her defense, under your auspicious conduct – rights rendered more dear to us by remembrance of former hardships.”
George Washington replied to Charles Carroll and the other signers in a letter “To the Roman Catholics in the United States,” March 15, 1790: “I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed. I thank you, gentlemen, for your kind concern for me. … And may the members of your society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity. G. Washington.”
In France, Thomas Paine was arrested and almost executed. He became critical of President George Washington and fell out of favor. When Thomas Paine wrote “The Age of Reason,” it was condemned by Charles Carroll, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Rush, John Witherspoon, Elias Boudinot, Patrick Henry, William Paterson, Zephaniah Swift, and John Jay.
Charles Carroll described Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason” as: “… blasphemous writings against the Christian religion.”
Charles Carroll, who was a member of a society to end slavery, wrote to Robert Goodloe, April 23, 1820: “Why keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil.”
On Sept. 27, 1825, in a letter to Charles W. Wharton, Esq., written from Doughoragen, Maryland, Charles Carroll stated: “On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation and on His merits not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts.”
After John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, Charles Carroll remained the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.The city of New York sent a committee to Charles Carroll to get his final comments on the Declaration, which he wrote on Aug. 2, 1826: “Grateful to Almighty God for the blessings which, through Jesus Christ Our Lord, He had conferred on my beloved country in her emancipation and on myself in permitting me, under circumstances of mercy, to live to the age of 89 years, and to survive the fiftieth year of independence, adopted by Congress on the 4th of July 1776, which I originally subscribed on the 2d day of August of the same year and of which I am now the last surviving signer, I do hereby recommend to the present and future generations the principles of that important document as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them, and pray that the civil and religious liberties they have secured to my country may be perpetuated to remotest posterity and extended to the whole family of man.”
Charles Carroll wrote in the first rendition of his last will and testament, Dec. 1, 1818: “I, Charles Carroll. . . . give and bequeath my soul to God who gave it, my body to the earth, hoping that through and by the merits, sufferings, and mediation of my only Savior and Jesus Christ, I may be admitted into the Kingdom prepared by God for those who love, fear and truly serve Him.”
At his death at the age of 95, Nov. 14, 1832, Charles Carroll was considered the wealthiest citizen in America. Charles Carroll’s statue was chosen to represent the State of Maryland in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
Charles Carroll’s cousin Daniel Carroll was one of two Catholics to sign the U.S. Constitution. Daniel Carroll was elected to the U.S. Congress and provided much of the land where the U.S. Capitol is built.
Charles Carroll’s nephew, Robert Brent, was the first mayor of Washington, D.C., being reappointed by Presidents Jefferson and Madison. Charles Carroll paid for the building of a large house for his son, which was later donated to be the main campus of John Hopkins University.
On Nov. 4, 1800, Charles Carroll had written to James McHenry, the signer of the Constitution for whom Fort McHenry was named: “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time. … They therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure and which insures to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”
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