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By Maureen Adams

2/17/2014 (1 month ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Charles Carroll joined the patriots, as did a majority of Catholics to prevent America from becoming another Ireland, ruled by a militaristic tyrant.

Charles Carroll did not know he was to become a signer of the Declaration of Independence when, writing to his father from France, told him,  "I trust in the mercy of God not my own merits, which are none, & hope he will pardon my daily offences. . . . I love him though far less than his infinite goodness deserves & I could wish to do". Carroll would go on to become the first Catholic political leader in the colonies and the only Catholic to sign the Declaration.

Charles Carroll joined the patriots, as did a majority of Catholics to prevent America from becoming another Ireland, ruled by a militaristic tyrant.

Charles Carroll joined the patriots, as did a majority of Catholics to prevent America from becoming another Ireland, ruled by a militaristic tyrant.

Article Highlights

By Maureen Adams

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/17/2014 (1 month ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Charles Carroll, Carrollton, American founders, Declaration of Independence, American history, Maureen Adams


SCOTTSDALE, AZ (Catholic Online) - Charles Carroll did not know he was to become a signer of the Declaration of Independence when, writing to his father from France, told him,  "I trust in the mercy of God not my own merits, which are none, & hope he will pardon my daily offences. . . . I love him though far less than his infinite goodness deserves & I could wish to do".

Carroll would go on to become the first Catholic political leader in the colonies and the only Catholic to sign the Declaration. Catholics, from the beginning of the colonial period to the founding,  were not welcome in the "New World",  except for Maryland Colony. Maryland, secured in 1629 from King Charles I by George Calvert, Ist Lord Baltimore,  was intended to be a refuge for English Catholics.  This was where Charles Carroll,  an illegitimate child, was born in 1737. 

A typically cautious man, Carroll, realizing the "cause"  was much greater than himself,  embraced the fight to worship freely; a right established in 1649 by Maryland's Religious Toleration Act which included equal liberty for all.  Charles was the 3rd generation of the Carroll family living in Maryland.  The Catholic Carroll's had come to the New World, fleeing the turmoil and brutality of a bloody war in Ireland, waged by a man whose hostility toward Catholics was legendary, Oliver Cromwell.  The war left the once prosperous Carroll family impoverished, their lands  being confiscated by Cromwell's army.  Charles grandfather, known as Charles Carroll the Settler,  left his father and Ireland as a young man, and in 1659 set out for what he believed would be a life of liberty in Maryland

Maryland, by the Royal Charter of King Charles I, granted Catholics the freedom to exercise  their religious practices  and offered them equality in matters of law and commerce.  In this environment, Charles Carroll the Settler began amassing a sizable fortune in his new home, but his great wealth did not make him immune to another religious storm looming large over Maryland's tightly knit Catholics.  Cromwell's persistent persecution crossed the Atlantic. The colonies, led by anti-Catholic zealots,  succeeded in reestablishing laws banning Catholics from influential professions, voting, holding public office, worshiping publicly, and sending their children to Catholic schools. 

By the time the Settler's grandson inherited his family's  property and enterprises, his holdings made him the wealthiest man living in the colonies. However, Carroll did not consider his great wealth as a means to acquire excessive material comforts. Instead, as a Catholic,  stripped of natural  liberties, wealth was deemed an effective tool to achieve American independence.  Freedom from tyranny, the right to worship, and liberty guaranteed by law were considered natural rights.  These rights were understood to be a worthy cause which evolved from the shadow of sufferings and humiliations the Carroll family had endured for generations.

But in 1776, a light was beginning to emerge from those shadows. Charles Carroll joined the patriots, as did a majority of Catholics to prevent America from becoming another Ireland, ruled by a militaristic tyrant.

At the beginning of the revolution, Charles Carroll, using the pseudonym  "First Citizen"  began waging a persuasive debate in the Maryland Gazette against  "Second Citizen," namely Daniel Dulany, Jr., a successful lawyer who enjoyed  a profession Catholics were forbidden to practice.  Carroll's arguments for liberty won him notoriety, and soon propelled him to leadership. Making no apologies for his Catholic beliefs, Carroll spoke for  all members of a minority religion and the principle of toleration. 

Serving the patriotic cause was a monumental risk for Charles Carroll.  The colonies faced a naval force unequaled in the world at that time. Carroll and his family, because of their faith, had more to lose than wealth if the war went badly.  By embracing the cause of independence, they risked suffering  the greatest of aggressions  by the anti-papist English. Understanding the risks, Carroll,  did not back away from his principles. On July 18, 1776, he signed the Declaration of Independence as "Charles Carroll of Carrollton," the moniker he chose to distinguish himself  from his father and grandfather.  

Charles Carroll and his forebears, distinguished for their ardent Catholic faithfulness, have left a legacy that should encourage all Catholics at this moment in the history of the United States.  As in 1776, Catholics are being directly targeted and discriminated against by the federal government; at this hour, for their beliefs in the sanctity of life and marriage. The Carroll's Catholic legacy is one to be remembered and extolled by Catholics nationwide. 

Catholics have a vital faith based on truth and reason about human life and society; a faith, when employed in the public square, can heal the culture.  By prayer, action, and collaboration we can resist this new anti-Catholic moment in our nation, and become the rightful heirs of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Charles Carroll was blessed for his courage: he lived to the age 95 and became the last surviving  signer of the Declaration of Independence.

-----

Maureen Adams, a former small business owner for 30 years, resides in  Scottsdale, AZ and is a member of St. Timothy's Catholic Church.  A bibliophile and music enthusiast, Maureen is a member of Legatus and has served on dozens of Diocesan and community boards over the past 25 years.

---


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