(by Anthony Esolen) IT’S A CRISP MORNING IN FEBRUARY, and the people have gathered for a joyous celebration. Men with drums and fifes pass by, playing marches, while boys and girls are waving flags, and members of churches and clubs and societies, men and women, ride on horse-drawn stages draped with red, white, and blue. They are passing by the home of the wealthiest man in Maryland, and possibly the most beloved. He stands before them on the second story, smiling.
He’s a slight, spare man, well into his nineties, but still possessed of a keen mind….They had wanted him to speak at their celebration, but he had declined because of ill health. Still, he praised their devotion. “The event you are about to commemorate.” he wrote,” must be felt by every individual who loves his country, and who can appreciate the blessings it enjoys. To General Washington mainly belongs, under the protection of PROVIDENCE, these blessings.” He promised to join them in prayer and gratitude to GOD for a man whose virtues were so needful in creating their beloved nation.
It was the centennial of Washington’s birthday, in 1832, and the old man was CHARLES CARROLL of Carrolton, the last survivor of the signers of the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Carroll was American by birth, Roman by temperament and education, and Catholic by the grace of GOD, a man who endured much for the faith, and who fought for the FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION, GUARANTEEING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AND FREE RELIGIOOUS EXERCISE TO ALL BELIEVERS.
A PATRIOT TO THE CORE
Ungrateful man is hard put to remember the benefits his country has conferred upon him, but Charles Carroll fought for a state, Maryland, that had disenfranchised Catholics, and for a young country whose intellectual and political elites were often bitterly suspicious of Rome. Indeed, one of the unbearable things that George III did, in the minds of severe New Englanders, was to pass the Quebec Act, allowing freedom of faith to French Catholics in the north…….
……….He (Carroll) had written a series of learned essays in 1773, published under the Roman pseudonym “First Citizen,” even though he had at the time no permission to vote, to recommend the principles of British common law and to argue against a fee imposed upon the citizens of Maryland by the upper house of their legislature, without the approval of the people’s representatives in the lower house. Such a fee, Carroll said, was really a tax, and to tax people at one’s pleasure is to strike at the root of liberty itself.
His opponents could not help themselves. Since Carroll spoke for the great majority of his fellow Marylanders, they had to attack the man more than the message. Amidst a barrage of ridicule and calumny, Charles Carroll stood up and proclaimed forgiveness. He and his fellow Catholics, he said, had forgotten their resentment of the treatment they had received from the Protestants. For Maryland had been founded by a Catholic family, the CALVERTS, AND HAD GUARANTEED FREEDOM OF RELIGION FOR ALL CHRISTIANS, UNTIL PROTESTANT SETTLERS TOOK OVER AND ANNULLED THE ORIGINAL CHARTER.
John Adams, no friend to popes and not free in his praise, wrote glowingly of Carroll, noting his zeal and his bravery, and how much he was risking from the vengeance of the British administration: “But he continues to hazard his all: his immense fortune, the largest in America, and his life.” He was indefatigable. He was a member of the War Department. He spent time with Washington at Valley Forge. He helped to fund the war. Most important, without him, AMERICA MIGHT NOT HAVE SECURED HER ALLIANCE WITH CATHOLIC FRANCE: NO COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU AND HIS FLEET, NO SURRENDER OF THE BRITISH AT YORKTOWN.
…..As Washington’s first term neared its end, many people thought that his logical successor should be Charles Carroll, deeply learned, unimpeachably honest, and devoted to the welfare of his country.
But thought there never was a President Carroll, Americans owe their presidency in part to Carroll’s ingenious compromise. HOW SHOULD we elect our president? Directly? By the people, or by their representatives in state legislatures? Might the president be the winner of a plurality only, or must he have a majority? What method will respect the individuality of the states, the will of the people, and the sense of the nation as a whole? For the president is not just the head of a party.
CARROLL, IT’S SAID, THOUGHT ABOUT HOW THE College of Cardinals select a pope-cardinals representing many nations and voting often by national blocs. The trick is to gain a majority of those electors; and hence was born the Electoral College, that element in the Constitution that prevents American politics from degenerating into secret deals among the heads of seven or eight parties in a splintered populace.
TRUE CATHOLIC, TRUE MAN
There’s much more to say about Charles Carroll’s contributions to America as a statesman and senator. …………………………………..
After Jefferson and Adams died on July 4, 1826, the young Daniel Webster said, “Of the illustrious Signers of the Declaration of Independence there now remains only Charles Carroll……Sole survivor of an assembly of as great men as the world has witnessed….
Heaven would keep him back another six years. He died on November 14, 1832….the last living tie to those men who staked everything they had and were, even their sacred honor, for freedom.
Information for this article came from : Bradley Birzer’s wonderful biography: AMERICAN CICERO: THE LIFE OF CHARLES CARROLL (ISI Press).