Charles Carroll: Our Catholic Founding Father
Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a delegate to the Continental Congress and later United States Senator for Maryland. He was also the only Catholic to have signed the The Declaration of Independence. One of the wealthiest men in the colonies, it is reported that — upon fixing his signature,
a member standing near observed, “There go a few millions,” and all admitted that few risked as much, in a material sense, than the wealthy Marylander.
(The Life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, 1737-1832, by Kate Mason Rowland).
A new biography, American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll (Lives of the Founders) (ISI) will be published in February 2010. (Tip of the hat to Carl Olson). The author, Dr. Bradley J. Birzer, was recently interviewed by the Washington Times:
Q: Carroll was the last of the signers to die. What did he have to say about America at the end of his life?
A: He was so critical of what happened to the republic after the founding. He’s very critical of the democratic element in the American republic – he’s worried that self-interest and greed are replacing republican virtue. So from the late 1700s, Carroll starts being called “the hoary-headed aristocrat.” He starts to be seen as a relic of an older age. But after Carroll dies, there’s a resurgence of his reputation. All across the country, the headlines read, “The last of the Romans is dead.”
And he was one of Alexis de Tocqueville’s main informants. So there are moments in de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) when he is being critical of the democratic spirit, and it seems very clear to me that he is taking that from his interview with Carroll.
Q: What does history get wrong about Carroll?
A: I’m always amazed at how much our own history, especially [in] our textbooks, tends to portray the founders as merely enlightened figures. And there’s no doubt they were. But the vast majority were Christian – Franklin and Jefferson being the exceptions that so many focus on. And the American people were intensely religious, mostly Protestant, at the time of the founding. I think it’s dangerous that we secularize the founding so much. We need to know the context – we need to know what inspired them to fight for liberty.
This would make the second book published recently about the Catholic founding father, the first being Scott McDermott’s Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary (Scepter Publications, 2001).
McDermott, a circulation librarian at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, writer and convert, began studying about Carroll after he came into the Church — In 2005, Zenit News interviewed him about his biography and Carroll’s influence on the founding fathers (Part I | Part II).
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I concur with the observation that the religiousity of many of our founding fathers is sadly overlooked and much neglected. Michael Novak made an important contribution to restoring a proper recognition to the religious roots of America’s founding with his On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding (2001), followed by Washington’s God, a study of the religious faith of the pre-eminent ‘Father of our Country’.