Maryland's "First Citizen": the Maryland senate issues a "First Citizen" award every year as a well deserved tribute to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the wealthiest signer of the Declaration of Independence. (History-Greatness Of The Founders).
In many ways, Charles Carroll had become "First Citizen" of America. The story of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his family is in many ways the story of Maryland.
Grandfather Arrives in Maryland
Charles Carroll's grandfather, also named Charles Carroll, sailed to Maryland in 1688 after briefly serving the faltering court of James II. Carroll was an ambitious lawyer, and he set sail to the proprietary colony commissioned by the third Lord Baltimore to serve as Maryland's attorney general. In Maryland, the 25-year-old Irish-born Carroll hoped to find tolerance of his religion and a chance to succeed.
The first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, received his title and a charter to begin colonizing Maryland from King Charles I in 1632. The charter promised safe haven for all Christians persecuted by the Church of England. Though the Calverts were staunch Catholics, and had preferred the new colony to primarily harbor persecuted Catholics, the charter also beckoned Puritans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and others to religious safety. Among the original 13 colonies, Maryland opened its history with the greatest invitation of religious freedom. Before long, large numbers of persecuted Puritans were streaming across the Potomac River from Anglican Virginia, and Maryland Catholics became a small minority of the population. Except for a brief interlude during the 1640s, when the same Protestant revolution that had engulfed England temporarily displaced the Baltimores, a spirit of religious tolerance pervaded Maryland up until the day Carroll landed in Maryland. The restoration of Baltimore brought the 1649 Toleration Act, which stipulated that "no person or persons whatsoever in this province ... professing to believe in Jesus Christ, shall henceforth be any ways troubled, molested or discountenanced for in respect to his or her religion."
The Carroll family patriarch arrived at Maryland's capital city, St. Mary's, just one month ahead of the news that James II had been overthrown in what was popularly called the "Glorious Revolution." Replaced by Dutch Prince William of Orange and his wife Mary, the British crown reverted to Protestant control once again and the Baltimore proprietorship was again overturned with a local revolution. London did not intervene on his behalf this time. Lord Baltimore's control over Maryland's government was permanently stripped from him, though Baltimore (Charles Calvert, the third Baltimore) and his successors were allowed to continue to receive the monetary proportion of the proprietorship. The capital was moved from St. Mary's to Annapolis, and penal laws were enacted barring Catholics from voting, teaching, holding public office, practicing law, and practicing their faith publicly.
Though most of Calvert's friends deserted him, Charles Carroll stood by him and served as his primary legal advisor. Carroll was even jailed twice for his spirited verbal defense of Calvert. The Carroll family patriarch benefited greatly from serving as lawyer for Calvert, as well as from his own abilities to make money, and he was soon at the head of an estate of 60,000 acres worth a sizeable fortune.
The elder Carroll's death in 1720 left his son, Charles Carroll of Annapolis (father of the Declaration signer), to manage the sizeable family estate at the tender age of 18. The "of Annapolis" helped to eliminate some of the confusion from the attorney general patriarch and from the patriarch's grandson Charles, who would sign his name "of Carrollton" after he had settled in his own house as an adult. The 18-year-old was called home from his studies in France and forced to cut his legal education short. He would never have the chance to get the legal education his father received, and he spent the rest of his life in service to his family - successfully increasing the family fortune. But he would always want his son, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, to get the legal education he was denied.
Life of the Signer
Charles Carroll of Carrollton was born on September 19, 1737, the only child of Charles Carroll of Annapolis. Young Charles had a happy early childhood. When his mother had taught him all she could, the 10-year-old boy was shipped off to France for further schooling, the only place where a Marylander could legally obtain a Catholic education. Accompanying young Charles on the voyage to the Jesuit-run St. Omer College was his first cousin, John Carroll, two years his senior. The two became lifelong friends as well as top students.
Graduating at 17 years old, Charles went on to study at the famous Jesuit University at Rheims for a year, and then for another year and a half to study law at Bourges. At Bourges, Charles began to show disinterest in studying law. When his tutor deserted him, he wrote home to his father declaring that he could not find a suitable replacement anywhere in the city. He later enrolled at the College of Louis Le Grand in Paris. By the end of his stay at Louis Le Grand, young Charles was writing home to his father about his disinterest in law and how he really just wanted to end his "exile" in Europe and return home to be a farmer, businessman, and country gentleman. The father fired back a torrent of letters urging the young man to continue his legal studies. And he sailed out to meet him, after it became obvious that Charles wasn't interested in studying law or the career in public office his father wished for him.
His father had another purpose in mind with his trip as well. He intended to ask King Louis for a proprietorship in the Louisiana Territory and to move the family there. Young Charles argued with his father on this issue, even though he desperately wanted to be an obedient son and loved his father more than any other person in his life. Charles argued that the English common law system offered greater protection to a persecuted Catholic than the French monarchy could ever offer to a privileged Catholic. "Religious persecution, I own, is bad, but civil persecution is still more irksome," he wrote to his father. His father eventually dropped the scheme.
Young Charles' legal training was already paying off, even if he had absolutely no interest in practicing law or pursuing a career in public service. Though young Charles never changed his view of the "dryness" of legal study, he obediently complied with his father's wishes and finished his studies of the Common Law at Middle Temple in London. He eventually conceded of the Common Law: "I am convinced of its utility and am therefore resolved at all hazards to plunge into this chaos."
Back to Maryland
The obedient son arrived back in Maryland from his "exile" in the hot political climate of 1764. Charles quickly settled into the role of farmer and country gentleman, though he took a keen interest in the public turmoil over the Sugar and Townshend acts. He took over management of the family estate from his father, and added to what was already the largest fortune in the colonies. Like his father and grandfather before him, Charles Carroll of Carrollton had the Midas touch in business. He was soon engaged to the beautiful Rachel Cooke, a distant cousin. The chronically sick Charles became seriously ill in the weeks before the July 1766 wedding was to take place, and the event was postponed until November 5th. Then Rachel became sick two days before the rescheduled wedding, and the wedding was again postponed. Three weeks later Rachel died unexpectedly. Carroll instantly became a romantic hero of high society, and within months he was engaged again to another distant cousin, Molly Darnall. Charles' wedding wa s again postponed, this time because authorities were reluctant to give the prominent Catholic gentleman a marriage license. The wedding finally took place on June 5, 1768, more than six months later than the happy couple would have liked.
All the while, Charles was actively consuming the political literature and issues of the day. He did not speak out publicly on politics, but he poured out his heart in letters to friends he had made in London, especially William Graves. Carroll had the heart of a growing patriot, lashing out against the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act, in addition to the imposition of British troops on Boston. "Ye mistaken policy of England," Charles wrote to Graves in 1765, would work against the mother country and make the colonies independent: "While loaded with oppressive taxes to purchase your manufactures, [England] will oblige us to manufacture for ourselves." Though Carroll was writing to Graves about the possibility of armed revolution in America as early as 1767, he remained silent in Maryland about politics. Political opinions were not proper for a Catholic in Maryland at that time; besides, Charles had absolutely zero interest in political service even if he had been qualified to serve.
Molly quickly put Charles at the center of Annapolis society. The Carrolls of Carrollton were entertaining constantly, and most of Annapolis came to know and like Carroll - despite his strict adherence to the Catholic Church. The Carrolls drew guests from Virginia, including intermittent visits from George Washington, as well as from the Maryland governor's office.
Charles' first entry into public affairs was a February 1773 reply to Tory lawyer Daniel Dulany. When the House of Burgesses (the popularly elected legislative chamber) voted to cut the "fees" (salaries) of royal officials as an old law on fees expired, the governor demanded that the legislature pass a law reinstating the old, exorbitant salary fees. When the House of Burgesses refused, the governor dissolved the body and passed the fee increase by edict. Like the imposition of the Stamp and Townshend acts by the British Parliament, this was a local Maryland example of "taxation without representation."
Dulany, like Carroll, was of Irish descent and had inherited a fortune from his father, who had built up a sizeable estate after coming to Maryland as a mere indentured servant. Having renounced Catholicism for the Church of England, Dulany therefore became eligible for public office and had been appointed as Secretary of Maryland and a member of the colony's upper legislative chamber called the Governor's Council. Widely renowned as the best lawyer in the state, Dulany was brilliant, popular, and arrogant--and he stood to gain financially by the higher fees.
In the atmosphere of widespread disaffection with the governor's edict, Dulany published an anonymous essay in the Maryland Gazette defending the position of the British-appointed governor in a dialogue format where a "First Citizen" Patriot served as a sounding board for a "Second Citizen" Tory defense of the governor's autocratic policy. In the manufactured dialogue, "First Citizen" did little more than ask questions -- giving "Second Citizen" an opportunity to expound on the Tory position -- and offer straw arguments for "Second Citizen" to demolish. When it became known that the brilliant lawyer Dulany had anonymously authored the essay, no one stepped in to argue with him.
No one, that is, except Carroll, who finally ended his self-imposed silence with a reply published on February 4th in the same anonymous "First Citizen"/"Second Citizen" format. Charles had known Dulany for more than a decade. The two had studied common law at Middle Temple in London, and they didn't get along then. There had long been animosity between the two families going back to the pair's parents. More importantly, Dulany had been the influence behind the six-month legal delay in Charles and Molly's marriage. The reply became both a patriotic and a personal service for Charles.
Replying as the "First Citizen," Charles explained that the remarks attributed to "First Citizen" are "so miserably mangled and disfigured, that he scarce can trace the smallest likeness between those, which really fell from him in the course of that conversation, and what has been put in his mouth." Carroll's anonymous reply was a more authentic rendering of the mythical conversation on liberty. He not only quoted Dulany's famously popular 1765 Considerations article, he revealed enough personal knowledge of the author to demonstrate that the two writers knew each other.
Carroll's reply was an instant sensation across the state, especially as Dulany continued corresponding under the pen name "Antilon." In his rejoinder, "Antilon" ineffectively argued that the salary "fees" for the crown officials were not taxes at all. Again Carroll replied to great effect. A bevy of letters complimentary to "First Citizen" appeared in succeeding issues of the newspaper. And new subscriptions poured into the Gazette, struggling financially until that point. An intense curiosity was generated about who this new brilliant patriot "First Citizen" was.
It wasn't long before Dulany had correctly guessed the true author. Bested in the intellectual contest, Dulany finally decided to use his last ace: character assassination of Carroll as a Roman Catholic. The "First Citizen," Dulany noted, wasn't even a citizen at all. On April 8th, the Maryland Gazette published Dulany's essay asking: "Who is this man that calls himself a citizen, makes his address to the inhabitants of Maryland, has charged the member of one of the legislative branches with insolence ... Who is he? He has no share in the legislature, as a member of any branch; he is incapable of being a member; he is disabled from giving a vote in the choice of representatives, by the laws and constitution of the country, on account of his principles, which are distrusted by those laws. He is disabled, by an express resolve, from interfering in the election of members, on the same account. He is not a Protestant."
Dulany dealt the religious card too late, and his strategy backfired. Carroll's "First Citizen" shot back: "Antilon would make a most excellent inquisitor, he has given some striking specimens of an arbitrary temper; the first requisite -- He will not allow me freedom of thought or speech." The "First Citizen" was already too popular to be dismissed as a mere plotting agent of the Vatican, and the attack worked in favor of acceptance of Catholics throughout the region.
More importantly, the patriot slate of candidates was elected across the state. By May 20th, Annapolis' two delegates to the House of Burgesses sent a commendatory letter to "First Citizen" Carroll, extolling: "Your manly and spirited opposition to the arbitrary attempt of government to establish the fees of office by proclamation, justly entitles you to the exalted character of a distinguished advocate for the rights of your country. The proclamation needed to be thoroughly understood to be generally detested, and you have had the happiness to please, to instruct, to convince your countrymen.... [A]nd in their name we publicly thank you for the spirited exertion of your abilities." Similar letters arrived from Frederick and Baltimore counties. He had indeed become Maryland's "First Citizen."
With this newfound acceptance, Carroll took up the patriotic cause fully. He was appointed to Maryland's Committee of Correspondence and became one of the most active members of the committee. He served on the Committees of Safety, Ways and Means for Defense, Observation (of the coast) and numerous regional and county committees. As the de facto government for Maryland during 1775, these Committee of Correspondence positions were not minor posts. He was appointed as a delegate to the first Continental Congress in September of 1774 but refused the commission, agreeing instead to attend as an observer. Carroll wrote home to his father from Congress that separation from England was inevitable and was soon attributed with coining slogans such as "stop writing Parliament and give them bayonets."
Carroll refused appointment to the second Continental Congress in May 1775 as well, but again agreed to attend as an observer. This time he was given an assignment. He would go with Ben Franklin and fellow Marylander Samuel Chase to Montreal in early 1776 to try to get the Canadians to join the looming war against Britain. John Adams and Ben Franklin also asked Charles to bring with him his cousin John Carroll, a Jesuit Priest, who they believed might be of some assistance among the French Catholic Quebecois.
The mission was doomed from the start. The first Continental Congress' formal condemnation of the Catholic religion had made the job difficult enough, but the behavior of American soldiers before the arrival of the three ambassadors made matters hopeless. The impoverished American soldiers encamped at Montreal had taken to stealing from the local Canadians for their food and needs. The incompetent American commander, General David Wooster, had insulted Quebec Catholics by publicly stating: "I regard you all as enemies and rascals." John Carroll's pleadings for Canadians to join the American union to win religious liberty were met with howls of derision. Catholics had always been tolerated in Montreal, Father Carroll was informed, until Wooster's American soldiers had shut down the Catholic Churches on Christmas Eve. Canada would continue to be loyal to the British Crown, and the ambassadors could do nothing but wait for British soldiers to overwhelm the few poorly led American troops.
Having wasted precious time in Canada, Carroll and Chase returned to Maryland just in time to change the course of history. With Carroll and Chase in Canada, the Tories were able to exert sufficient influence in the colony to pass a resolution on May 8, 1776 to send delegates to Congress to oppose independence and work toward a "reunion with Great Britain."
The two lions of independence immediately launched an all-out effort to recall the delegates and send new delegates with instructions to vote for independence. A new Maryland Convention recalled the delegates and issued new instructions to vote for independence on June 28th. This time Carroll accepted his nomination as a delegate, though he remained in Maryland for a while longer to guard over the continuing convention. The other Maryland delegates voted for an independence resolution on July 2nd. Charles took his seat in Philadelphia on July 18th, two weeks before the August 2nd signing ceremony. At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, according to legend, Carroll was asked by John Hancock, "Will you sign?" Carroll replied: "Most willingly." As the wealthiest man in America signed the Declaration -- pledging his life, fortune and sacred honor -- a delegate reputedly muttered: "There go a few millions."
Carroll was appointed to the Congressional Board of War, but he was back in Maryland by August 14th and appointed as one of seven delegates charged with drawing up Maryland's new constitution. Carroll primarily authored the new constitution, though his distant cousin, Charles Carroll the Barrister (also one of the seven delegates) drew up the famous Maryland Bill of Rights guaranteeing religious freedom. The signer had been called back to Philadelphia before the Bill of Rights could be considered.
Carroll had barely returned to Philadelphia when he was pulled back to Carrollton to tend to his deathly sick wife Molly. While in Maryland, he learned of his election to the first Maryland Senate on February 5, 1777. He eventually became the senate president.
Carroll's main service in the Continental Congress was on a committee to "inquire" about American troops at Valley Forge. The inquiry became a clear attempt to undermine Washington's authority as Commander-in-Chief by aspiring lesser lights. The committee had been stacked with congressmen unfavorable to Washington. Though Carroll was called home again by relatives warning that Molly was again in danger of death, Molly urged Charles to ride off to Valley Forge as soon as her life was no longer in danger. Carroll arrived several days later, and, with Gouvernor Morris, won over the majority of the committee. Washington was again secure as commander in chief.
After the victory at Saratoga precipitated the French alliance, Carroll reasoned that he had no more reason to serve in Congress. He certainly never had any desire to serve. Carroll again retired back to Carrollton, with the exception of his continued service in the Maryland Senate.
A Federalist for the Constitution
Carroll became an early and enthusiastic Federalist after the war, and actively supported adoption of the 1787 Constitution. He was elected as a delegate to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, but refused in order to fight Samuel Chase's inflationary money bill in the Maryland Senate. Charles' cousin Daniel Carroll was chosen to replace him, and Daniel played an active role in the debates. The "First Citizen" and his friend Thomas Johnson organized against anti-federalist Samuel Chase to secure Maryland's adoption of the Constitution, winning the final vote 63 to 11.
Though a slaveholder himself, Carroll attempted to abolish the institution he had inherited with a bill he introduced in the Maryland Senate in 1797. Had it passed, the bill would have abolished the "peculiar institution" over a generation.
Carroll was elected as one of Maryland's senators in the first United States Senate, and he is generally regarded as a Federalist. He backed Hamilton's misguided bank, opposed political titles, and steadfastly backed states' rights under the Constitution. Carroll admonished the nation to promote "adherence to the principles which laid the foundation of [America's] growing prosperity; the confederation of these states, sovereign and independent within the powers not delegated to the general confederacy." He resigned his U.S. Senate seat at the end of the 1792 session after being forced to choose between it and his Maryland Senate seat.
Carroll retired from politics permanently after losing his 1800 reelection bid to Jefferson's new Republican Party. The campaign had been bitter, and Carroll never cared for public office anyway. He finally had the chance to become a farmer and country gentleman again. Carroll continued to live a long life, gaining the good health that had evaded him in his youth. He kept fit by riding 20 miles or more every day well into his 90s, and kept a moderate diet and avoided alcohol except for a glass of Madeira at dinner every day.
The Carroll family continued its prominence in Maryland long after Charles retired. His cousin and schoolmate John Carroll moved to the city of Baltimore and became the first Catholic bishop in America; his grandson John Lee Carroll served as governor of Maryland from 1875 to 1880. The Maryland Senate issues a "First Citizen" award every year in honor of "First Citizen" Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Deservedly so.
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|Author:||Eddlem, Thomas R.|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||Aug 26, 2002|
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