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Fortnight For Freedom: Charles Carroll of Carrollton-Faith and Freedom

Fortnight For Freedom 2014

charles-carroll-of-carrollton

And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

George Washington, Farewell Address

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, as he signed his name when he added his signature to the Declaration of Independence, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.  When he died at the age of 95, he was the last of the Signers to depart this vale of tears.

The scion of perhaps the richest family in the colonies, Charles Carroll was initially uninterested in politics and, in any case, was debarred by his religion from participating in politics in his native Maryland by his religion.  However, in his thirties he became a passionate advocate of American independence from Great Britain and quickly became one of the chief leaders of the Patriot cause in his home colony.  It was only natural as a result that he was sent to Congress, in spite of his religion, where he was one of the chief spokesmen for independence and happily placed his signature on the Declaration even though by doing so he risked not only his fortune but his life if the British had prevailed.

Two stories are told about him signing the document.  Supposedly he initially signed as Charles Carroll.  A member of Congress, who disliked Carroll because of 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 known as 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!”.

By the end of 1776 the revolutionary government of Maryland had issued an act of religious freedom, and Carroll and his fellow Catholics in Maryland enjoyed the same civil rights as Protestants.

In 1778 he returned to Maryland and helped draft the state constitution and in setting up the new state government, serving in the State Senate until 1800, and briefly in the United States Senate.

A slaveholder, throughout his career Carroll spoke and wrote of slavery as an evil that must come to an end as soon as possible.  He attempted, but failed, to have Maryland implement a plan of gradual emancipation.  At the age of 91 he took on the task of being president of the Auxiliary State Colonization Society of Maryland, part of  a national movement to have free blacks voluntarily colonize what would become Liberia in Africa.

Something of a Renaissance man, he had a strong interest in science and in his nineties helped set up the B&O Railroad, lending his prestige to this new technology in his native Maryland.

Throughout his life his two main passions were the American Revolution and his Faith.   Like most of the Founding Fathers he regarded the idea of political liberty divorced from sound morality, derived from religion, as an absurdity.  He set forth his ideas on this subject in a letter to Secretary of War James McHenry in 1800 in which he lamented the then current American political scene:

These events will be hastened by the pretended philosophy of France; divine revelation has been scoffed at by the Philosophers of the present day, the immortality of the soul treated as the dreams of fools, or the invention of knaves, & death has been declared by public authority an eternal sleep; these opinions are gaining ground amongst us & silently saping the foundations of religion & encouragement of good, the terror of evildoers and the consolation of the poor, the miserable, and the distressed. Remove the hope & dread of future reward & punishment, the most powerful restraint on wicked action, & ye strongest inducement to virtuous ones is done away. Virtue, it may be said, is its own reward; I believe it to be so, and even in this life the only source of happiness, and this intimate & necessary connection between virtue & happiness here, & between vice & misery, is to my mind one of the surest pledge of happiness or misery in a future state of existence. But how few practice virtue merely for its own reward? Some of happy dispositon & temperament, calm reflecting men, exempt in a great degree from the turbulance of passions may be virtuous for vitrtue’s sake. Small however is the number who are guided by reason alone, & who can always subject their passions to its dictates. He can thust act may be said to be virtuous, but reason is often inlisted on the side of the passions, or at best, when most wanted, is weakest. Hence the necessity of a superior motive for acting virtuously; Now, what motive can be stronger than ye belief, founded on revelation, that a virtuous life will be rewarded by a happy immortality? Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore, who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, & insures to the good eternal happiness are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free government.

Carroll didn’t think much of John Adams as President, but Adams had precisely the same views on this subject as he stated in an address on October 11, 1798 to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the militia of Massachusetts:  “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Most of the Founding Fathers left similar sentiments in their writings.  Something to ponder as we celebrate the Fourth tomorrow.  Here is the full text of the letter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton to James McHenry:

 

Annapolis, 4th Nov. 1800

I regret my absence from this city when Mr. Caldwell brought your letter of the 21st past, as it deprived me of shewing those attentions & that civility to which his character & his connection with you justly entitled him.

I hoped to have had the pleasure of a visit from you at the Manor. I wished much to see you to discourse on a variety of subjects & particularly on the present critical situation of this country. The President remarks that we are fallen upon evil times. I fear a great part of the evil may be attributed to his shifting conduct, his passions, his indescretion, vanity & jealousy. I had a high opinion of Mr. Adams, & still I believe him to be an honest man, but his integrity cannot compensate for his weaknesses, which unfit him for his present station. With a competition for places & power between the friends & opposers of the administration the only object of the contest, it would be a matter of indifference to me by what party the governt. should be administered. If Mr. Adams should be reelected I fear our Constitution would be more injured by his unruly passions, anitpathies & jealousy, than by the whimsies of Jefferson. I am not acquainted with the characters of the leaders of the opposition but it is to be apprehanded [sic], that to obtain & retain power they might sacrifice the true interests & real independence of this country to France. Judge Duvall says that now well informed man can doubt of there being a british faction among us wishing to establish a monarchy in lieu of a republican govent. If he unites the north I own I am not one of the number of the well informed. I know of no such faction; if it exists & is endeavouring to effect such a change, its attempts should be crushed. If our country should continue to be the sport of parties, if the mass of the people should be exasperated & roused to pillage the more wealthy, social order will be subverted, anarchy will follow, succeeded by despotism; these changes have in that order of succession taken place in France. Yet the men so far as I am informed, who stile themselves republicans, very generally wish success to France; in other words, the friends of freedom here are the friends of Bounaparte, who has established by a military force the most despotic government in Europe; how are we to reconcile this contradiciton of their avowed principles? Is their aversion to the English constitution the cause of this inconsistency? Do they consider the naval power of that nation as the strongest barrier to the revolutionary arts by which all the rulers of France, each in their turn, have endeavoured & are endeavouring to weaken & subvert all other governments, that France may establish an influence over all, & thus become too powerful? They dare not avow the sentiments, yet their wishes & their conduct point to it. I wish the british to retain the empire of the seas, while the rulers of France are activated by such motives; the decided naval superiority of Britain is ye only effectual check to ye ambition of that republick; the true interests and independence of this country require that those rival nations should be balanced.

If the people of this coutnry were united it would have nothing to fear from foreign powers; but unhappily this is not the case. Many of the opposers of the present administration, I suspect want a change of the federal constitution; if that should be altered or weakened so as to be rendered a dead letter, it will not answer the purposes of its formation and will expire from mere inanity: other confederacies will start up & ye scene of ye Grecian states after an interval of more than two thousand years will be renewed on this contintent, & some Philip or Bounaparte will met the whole of them into one mass of despotism.

These events will be hastened by the pretended philosophy of France; divine revelation has been scoffed at by the Philosophers of the present day, the immortality of the soul treated as the dreams of fools, or the invention of knaves, & death has been declared by public authority an eternal sleep; these opinions are gaining ground amongst us & silently saping the foundations of religion & encouragement of good, the terror of evildoers and the consolation of the poor, the miserable, and the distressed. Remove the hope & dread of future reward & punishment, the most powerful restraint on wicked action, & ye strongest inducement to virtuous ones is done away. Virtue, it may be said, is its own reward; I believe it to be so, and even in this life the only source of happiness, and this intimate & necessary connection between virtue & happiness here, & between vice & misery, is to my mind one of the surest pledge of happiness or misery in a future state of existence. But how few practice virtue merely for its own reward? Some of happy dispositon & temperament, calm reflecting men, exempt in a great degree from the turbulance of passions may be virtuous for vitrtue’s sake. Small however is the number who are guided by reason alone, & who can always subject their passions to its dictates. He can thus act may be said to be virtuous, but reason is often inlisted on the side of the passions, or at best, when most wanted, is weakest. Hence the necessity of a superior motive for acting virtuously; Now, what motive can be stronger than ye belief, founded on revelation, that a virtuous life will be rewarded by a happy immortality? Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore, who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, & insures to the good eternal happiness are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free government.

If there be force in this reasoning what judgement ought we to form of our pretended republicans, who admire & applaud the proceedings of the revolutionary France!

These disclaimers in favor of freedom and equality act in such a questionable shape that I cannot help suspecting their sincerity.

This is a long & preaching letter and I fear a tedious & dull one, but you wished to know my sentiments about the present parties & impending fate of our country, and I could not give them without developing the reasons for my opinion. You see that I almost despair of the Commonwealth. The end of every legitimate government is the security of life, liberty and property: if this country is to be revolutionised none of these will be secure. Perhaps the leaders of the opposition, when they get into office, may be content to let the Constitution remain as it is, & may pursue the policy & measures of Washington’s administration, but what will become in that case of their consistency? Patriots you will say are not always consistent; granted, yet other patriots and opposers will arise to arraign this inconsistency, & the storm once raised, who will stop its fury?

Celui que met un pein a la fureur des flots

Sait aussi des mechans arreter les complots

My only hope is in that being who educes good out of evil. May he in his abundant mercy incline the hearts of our countrymen to peace, justice and concord.

I have read Mr. Hamilton’s pamphlet; the drift of its publication at this time I conjecture was not so much with a view of vindicating his character as to prevent the electors in Massachusetts from scattering their votes in order to secure the election of Mr. Adams in preference to Mr. Pinckney. All with whom I have conversed, blame however Mr. Hamilton and consider his publication as ill timed, altho I pay a deference to the opinions of others, whose motives I know to be good, yet I cannot help differing from them in this instance. The assertions of the pamphlet I take it for granted are true, and if true, surely it must be admitted that Mr. Adams is not fit to be president, and his unfitness should be made known to the electors, and ye public. I conceive it a species of treason to conceal from the publick his incapacity . . .

Although your remaining rather a spectator of than an actor in the passing scenes is founded on a proper motive, yet you will find it impossible to retain an neutral character, nor do I think it fit you should. We ought all, each in our several spheres, to endeavour to set the publick mind right, & to administer antodotes to the poison that is widely spreading throughout the country.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

10 Comments

  1. In Scotland, strictly speaking, a heritor should always include his territorial designation, when signing a deed or other formal writ, thus, “MPS of Boyd.” A tenant would sign “at Boyd”

    This is why one encounters names like “Maitland of that ilk,” meaning “Maitland of that same,” in other words, Maitland of Maitland, where his surname and the name of his seat are the same.

    In country areas, it is very common for farmers to be called by their territorial designations. Everyone locally calls me “Boyd.” After all, Mr Boyd means master of Boyd and Mr P-S means nothing at all.

    Perhaps, that is why it has always been quite common here for married couples to keep their own surnames, but to use the same designation, thus John Brown and Janet Gordon may be Mr & Mrs Kersland.

  2. What a great man! And to think that Hollywood recently portrayed him as a member of the Masonic Order? Who knew!?

  3. This is where you have the advantage of me Donald. I was under the impression that Maryland was founded by Lord Baltimore as a Catholic colony (or at least as a colony tolerant of Catholicism). Had that changed by 1776?

  4. Ernst, Maryland was never a Catholic majority colony. Except for a brief Puritan revolt during the time of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, the Calvert family were allowed to run the colony as a haven of religious toleration. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 Parliament outlawed Catholicism in Maryland, and it stayed that way until the American Revolution

  5. TomD

    Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Catholicism became identified in the minds of British Protestants with support for the exiled House of Stuart.
    In this, they were not wrong. The Stuarts, beginning with Charles I, who was married to a French Catholic (who may have given her name to Maryland), had always used their power to mitigate the disabilities of Catholics, James II was openly a Catholic and Charles II was probably an undeclared one.
    Add to this that the Catholic clergy in Britain was wholly French-educated, as was a fair portion of the Catholic gentry, who were sent to Jesuit or Benedictine schools at Douai. There they imbibed a strong belief in sacral monarchy and legitimism. Although the Jacobite cause was plainly lost after the ’45 Rebellion, many Catholics continued to believe they could not, in conscience, swear allegiance to “the Elector of Brunswick,” or renounce “the Pretender”until after the direct Stuart line came to an end with the death of the Cardinal Duke of York in 1807.
    As a result, although religious tolerance, not to say indifference, increased in Britain throughout the 18th century, Catholics remained politically suspect and, often, with good reason.

  6. “Catholics remained politically suspect and, often, with good reason.”

    And this was pure prejudice, MPS. Everyone remembers Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, which would seem to be a ‘good reason’ to suspect Catholics. Does anyone remember that it was English Catholics who put an end to the plot by informing the government? No, of course not. Over a century earlier Thomas More supported the Crown on every topic but one, and that support gained him no credit in the end. A ‘good reason’ to suspect Catholics could always be found.
    It’s a good thing Europe gave us Martin Luther when it did and not Karl Marx, or the English anti-papists would have been a thousand times bloodier.

  7. TomD

    When people make no secret of their support for a government in exile at Bar-le-duc and refuse to take an oath of allegiance to the current government, they cannot really complain, if they are not admitted to public office.

    Robert Dundas of Arniston (Solicitor General 1742-46, Lord Advocate 1754-60 and Lord President 1760-87) certainly represented educated opinion in Scotland, when he wrote, ““The spirit of persecution and intolerance is happily now almost extinguished. It survives only in those illiberal minds who join a morose and harsh disposition to a weak understanding. An acquaintance with the history of mankind will easily show that calamity, bloodshed, rebellion and depopulation have taken their rise from religious persecution, but no example ever occurred of a political evil which arose from toleration.” But, for him, abjuring allegiance to the Pretender was non-negotiable, pleas of conscience notwithstanding. When Rev Mr William Harrison, Parish Priest of the Rough Bounds was captured carrying dispatches from the Pretender’s court, Dundas had him promptly deported to France.

  8. I am glad that Robert Dundas did not hang William Harrison. That was a generous act of mercy.

    None of this has a bearing on Maryland. Maryland did not have a Catholic majority. The later Lords Baltimore were Anglican. Many of their appointed governors were not Catholic. Maryland was not going to host any Stuarts (the cooking in France was better). Personally I find the colonial politics of less import than the fact that the Protestants were unhappy with the Maryland Toleration Act. Suspicion may have been understandable, intolerance was not.

  9. TomD wrote, “I am glad that Robert Dundas did not hang William Harrison. That was a generous act of mercy.”
    That would have been quite unthinkable. Of the priests who had accompanied the Prince in the ‘45, only Rev Mr Colin Campbell of Morar was murdered; although unarmed, he was shot down on the field of Culloden by Hessian mercenaries, as he tried to rally the MacDonalds for one last charge.
    Of the others, Rev Mr Allan MacDonald, rector of the (illegal but tolerated) seminary at Scalan, near Glenlivet was imprisoned for a year in a military garrison and then ordered to leave the country. Scalan itself was burned on the orders of Butcher Cumberland, as a “nest of traitors.” Rev Mr Aeneas McGillis of Glengarry was put to the horn (outlawed) and fled the country. Of those who had stayed at home, but had “prayed for the Pretender,” Rev Mr Neil McFie of the Rough Bounds, Rev Mr Alexander Forrester of Uist and Rev Mr James Grant of Barra were deported to France. Savage as such treatment of clergymen appears to us, it was not unduly harsh by the standards of the time. They were pardoned under the Indemnity Act 1747. They were welcomed back with a letter from the Lord Advocate, William Grant of Prestongrange (a staunch Presbyterian) warning them that, in future “such clemency might not be so expedient for the public welfare as it would be agreeable to his Lordship’s inclinations,” so they were effectively on probation.
    Only the Apostolic Visitor, Bishop Hugh MacDonald of Morar, who had blessed the Jacobite standard at Glenfinnan, was prosecuted (not for treason, but as a “Jesuit, priest, or trafficking papist”) at the insistence of the London government. Banished on pain of death, he ignored the sentence and went on with his work as before and the Scottish authorities winked at it. He was granted a pension by the French Intelligence Service, under his nom de guerre of of Marolle.

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