Listers, Charles Carroll was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was a man affluence, a man who was barred from politics, practicing law, and voting due to his Roman Catholic faith, and a man who helped shaped the United States of America.1
Charles Carroll of Carrollton (September 19, 1737 – November 14, 1832) was a wealthy Maryland planter and an early advocate of independence from Great Britain. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and later as United States Senator for Maryland. He was the only Catholic and the longest-lived (and last surviving) signatory of the Declaration of Independence, dying at the age of 95.
Encyclopedic Entries on Charles Carroll:
1. Secret Jesuit Education
The young Carroll was educated at a secret Jesuit preparatory school known as Bohemia Manor in Cecil County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, though this cannot be confirmed from contemporary records, and he may have been schooled at home before departing for Europe, where he attended the College of St. Omer in France, and graduated from the College of Louis the Grand in 1755. He continued his studies in Europe, and read for the law in London before returning to Annapolis in 1765.
2. Barred Because of Faith
Charles Carroll of Annapolis granted Carrollton Manor to his son, Charles Carroll of Carrollton. It is from this tract of land that he took his title, “Charles Carroll of Carrollton.” Like his father, Carroll was a Roman Catholic, and as a consequence of this he was barred by Maryland statute from entering politics, practicing law, and voting. This did not prevent him from becoming one of the wealthiest men in Maryland (or indeed anywhere in the Colonies), owning extensive agricultural estates, most notably his large manor at Doughoregan, and providing capital to finance new enterprises on the Western Shore.
3. Letters of the “First Citizen”
Carroll was not initially interested in politics (and was in any event barred by his faith from active participation) but as the dispute between Great Britain and her colonies intensified in the early 1770s, Carroll would become a powerful voice for independence in Maryland. In 1772 he engaged in a debate conducted through anonymous newspaper letters, maintaining the right of the colonies to control their own taxation. Writing in the Maryland Gazette under the pseudonym “First Citizen,” he became a prominent spokesman against the governor’s proclamation increasing legal fees to state officers and Protestant clergy.
Opposing Carroll in these written debates and writing as “Antillon” was Daniel Dulany the Younger, a noted lawyer and loyalist politician. In these debates, Carroll argued that the government of Maryland had long been the monopoly of four families, the Ogles, the Taskers, the Bladens and the Dulanys, with Dulany taking the contrary view. Eventually word spread of the true identity of the two combatants, and Carroll’s fame and notoriety began to grow. Dulany soon resorted to highly personal ad hominem attacks on “First Citizen”, and Carroll responded, in statesmanlike fashion, with considerable restraint, arguing that when Antilles 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”.
4. War as the Arbiter of the Dispute
Following these written debates, Carroll became a leading opponent of British rule, and served on various committees of correspondence. He also played an important role in the burning of the Peggy Stewart, a ship which had been carrying tea to Maryland, and was destroyed on October 19, 1774 as part of the tea party protests against British excise duties.
In the early 1770s Carroll appears to have embraced the idea that only violence could break the impasse with Great Britain. According to legend, Carroll and Samuel Chase (who would also later sign the Declaration of Independence on Maryland’s behalf) had the following exchange:
Chase: “We have the better of our opponents; we have completely written them down.” Carroll: “And do you think that writing will settle the question between us?” Chase: “To be sure, what else can we resort to?” Carroll: “The bayonet. Our arguments will only raise the feelings of the people to that pitch, when open war will be looked to as the arbiter of the dispute”.
5. The First Amendment: Catholic Inspired?
When Maryland decided to support the open revolution, he was elected to the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and remained a delegate until 1778. He arrived too late to vote in favor of it, but was able to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was the last living signatory of the Declaration of Independence at the time of his death. It is reputed that the First Amendment to the Constitution was written in appreciation for his financial support during the American Revolutionary War by his peers discerning his contributions in such stark contrast to the denial of civic rights due to his Catholicism.
6. Signing the Declaration of Independence
According to Hix, when it was Carroll’s turn to sign the Declaration of Independence, he rose, went to John Hancock’s desk where the document rested, signed his name “Charles Carroll” and returned to his seat. At this point another member of the Continental Congress, who was prejudiced against Carroll because of his Catholicism, commented that Carroll risked nothing in signing the document, as there must be many men named Charles Carroll in the colonies, and so the King would be unlikely to order Carroll’s arrest without clear proof that he was the same Charles Carroll who had signed the Declaration. Carroll immediately returned to Hancock’s desk, seized the pen again, and added “of Carrollton” to his name.
The Carroll family were slaveholders, and Charles Carroll was himself a substantial and wealthy planter. Like many Southerners, Carroll was opposed in principle to slavery, asking rhetorically “Why keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil”. However, although he supported its gradual abolition, he did not free his own slaves, perhaps fearing that they might be rendered destitute in the process. Carroll introduced a bill for the gradual abolition of slavery in the Maryland senate but it did not pass. In 1828, aged 91, he served as president of the Auxiliary State Colonization Society of Maryland, the Maryland branch of the American Colonization Society, an organization dedicated to returning black Americans to lead free lives in African states such as Liberia.
8. The Death of Charles Carroll
He died on November 14, 1832, in Baltimore. His funeral took place at the Baltimore Cathedral (now known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in Baltimore, and he is buried in his Doughoregan Manor Chapel at Ellicott City, Maryland. He was the last survivor of the Declaration of Independence signers.