The Catholic Signer
Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, letter to James McHenry, November 4, 1800.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the sole Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, was an endlessly fascinating man. He led the fight for Catholic civil rights in Maryland and the new nation. A slaveholder, he supported the efforts to establish a free colony of blacks in Liberia, and sponsored legislation in the Maryland Senate for the gradual abolition of slavery in Maryland, although the bill was defeated. He lived a long and eventful 95 years, dying in 1832, the last of the signers. He will be the subject of many blog posts in the future, but today I want to post on what he is most famous for, the signing of the Declaration.
Two stories are told about him signing the document. Supposedly he initially signed as Charles Carroll. A member of Congress, who disliked Carroll for his Catholicism, sneered, saying how would the British know which Charles Carroll had signed, this being a common name. Carroll then angrily took up his quill pen and appended “of Carrollton” to his signature. I love this story, but alas it is unlikely. Charles Carroll had been adding “of Carrollton” to his signature for years prior to the Revolution, a reference to his Manor which was called Carrollton. Additionally, as one of the richest men in the colonies, it is unlikely that the British government would have had any confusion as to which Charles Carroll had signed his name.
The second story is much more likely to be true, as fond of gallows humor as the Founding Fathers tended to be. When he signed his name one of the other members of Congress said, “There goes several millions!”.