In his recent address to American Catholics, President Trump began, “From the very beginning of our Republic, Catholics have uplifted and enriched our nation beyond measure. Catholics like Charles Carroll helped secure American Independence.” Who was Charles Carroll?
Born in 1737, Carroll would become the only Roman Catholic signee of the Declaration of Independence. And, in spite of his dislike for the Boston Tea Party and its radical undertones, he would shock many of its own members and join the rest of them as he burned down the British ship, the Peggy Stewart, in a Maryland bay. You might wonder if Carroll was just a bored, irascible, reckless rioter.
On the contrary, Carroll was considered the wealthiest man in the States at that time due to the entrepreneurial successes of himself and his forefathers. By participating in the revolution, he risked the confiscation of all his wealth. Not only was he a talented businessman and notable contributor to society, in stark contrast to most violent rioters around us today, but also the most highly formally educated man to sign the Declaration. He spent years in Jesuit schools, studying law, learning to speak five different languages, and studying works that allowed him to form a deep conviction of religious truth.
John Adams, who would become America’s second president, remarked of Carroll, “In the cause of American liberty, his zeal, fortitude, and perseverance have been so conspicuous that he is said to be marked out for particular vengeance by the friends of Administration; but he continues to hazard his all, his immense fortune, the largest in America, and his life,” (Gregg).
What motivated a man like Carroll to take such risks? Carroll and his family had been barred from voting or holding public office until the 1770s due to their Catholic faith. He knew too well the sting of oppression and as a result, had a fiery determination to defend America and the liberty it offered. Luckily, he was at the time in good company, as he said of Americans, they “are not yet corrupt enough to undervalue Liberty, they are truly sensible of its blessings, and not only talk of them as they do somewhere else, but really wish their continuance,” (Gregg).
Gregg, S. (2013). Tea party Catholic: The Catholic case for limited government, a free economy, and human flourishing. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company.
“Charles Carroll of Carrollton.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Oct. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Carroll_of_Carrollton.
“Charles Carroll of Carrollton.” CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Charles Carroll of Carrollton, newadvent.org/cathen/03379c.htm.
Image from the Baltimore Sun, baltimoresun.com/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-0704-charles-carroll-20190703-story.html.