Fortnight For Freedom: The Catholic Signer

Sunday, July 3, AD 2016

 

fortnight for freedom 2016

 

 

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, 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 religions.  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.  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:

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4 Responses to Fortnight For Freedom: The Catholic Signer

  • Very excited you will be doing more posts on him. I just read the most recent book tha thas com eout on hi and I very much recommend it.

    On a side note his home still stands and his family still lives there. However the Family is trying everything it can to make sure the Estate does not fall to pieces. It would be a shame if that happened

    http://www.doughoregan.com/

    The Revolution literally cost him millions by the way. He fought a very unpopular fight against Paper money. His Father was rather incensed at him that he did not fight it harder. When paper money came on the scene the value of his estate decreased quite a bit

  • Great piece.
    Thanks again for the History lesson.
    The last signee to pass away…Our Founding Father’s…pray for us.

  • Another good history lesson. Thanks!

  • My father graduated from John Carroll (Jesuit University in Cleveland, Ohio). Was all-male then. Named after relative of Charles and of course the first Catholic bishop of the U.S. My father participated in college ROTC there. I wonder how many Catholic colleges allow that now in these politically correct times (especially the Jesuit ones). A couple of notable alumni include Don Shula and the late Tim Russert (Meet the Press).

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

Thursday, June 26, AD 2014

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.

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10 Responses to Fortnight For Freedom: Charles Carroll of Carrollton-Faith and Freedom

  • 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.

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

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  • 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?

  • 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

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.