Carroll, Charles

views updated


Statesman, signer of the Declaration of Independence; b. Annapolis, Md., Sept. 19, 1737; d. Baltimore, Md., Nov. 14, 1832. The only son of Charles and Elizabeth (Brooke) Carroll, he used "of Carrollton," the name of one of his estates, to distinguish himself from his father, "of Annapolis," and his grandfather, "the Attorney General." The first Charles Carroll had immigrated to Lord Baltimore's tolerant palatinate because of English religious discriminations; these extended to Maryland after 1688 and he lost his attorney general's commission. Disbarred from political life, he so concentrated on amassing wealth that his grandson, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was born to the greatest fortune in the American colonies.

Early Life. Bohemia Manor Academy, secretly conducted by the Society of Jesus in defiance of Maryland law, prepared Carroll and his cousin John, afterward Archbishop carroll, for the English Jesuit college of St. Omer, in French Flanders. Following his studies there, Carroll attended the Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris. Although religious disability would prevent his practicing in Maryland, he studied law in Bourges, Paris, and London. After 16 years of European education, he returned to Annapolis on June 5, 1768, and married Mary Darnall. All but three of their seven children died young.

The Stamp Act had had violent repercussions in Maryland, and Carroll's father was one of those who, on the passage of the Townshend Acts, set up manufactories. However, a provincial matter was responsible for Carroll's entry into public life. Under Governor Robert Eden, the assembly and council of 1770 were bitterly opposed on the question of regulating officers' fees and stipends of the clergy of the Established Church. On Jan. 7, 1773, a dialogue in the Maryland Gazette, unsigned but generally believed to be the work of Secretary Daniel Dulany, received wide attention. It presented a "First Citizen" whose arguments against the official position were demolished by a "Second Citizen's" replies, at least for the time being.

"Second Citizen," however, did not have the last word. In the Gazette of Feb. 4, 1773, "First Citizen" was the victor in another dialogue, written obviously by another author. Dulany, replying, signed "Antilon"; Carroll, replying in turn, signed "First Citizen"; and so the exchange continued until midsummer. Resorting finally to sneers at Carroll as a disfranchised Catholic, Dulany's weapon boomeranged as feeling in favor of the discriminated-against "First Citizen" mounted. The controversy established Carroll's preeminence in Maryland, where citizens publicly thanked him for defending their liberties. [see church and state in the u.s. (legal history), 1].

Public Career. Carroll became a member of the Committee of Correspondence for Annapolis in 1774 and was active in the Peggy Stewart affair. Suspecting that anti-Catholic sentiment engendered by the recent Quebec Act would mar his usefulness, he declined as delegate to the first Continental Congress but accompanied the Maryland delegation as unofficial consultant. Although his religion was unpopular, his Catholicism was the chief reason for his appointment to the first American diplomatic mission to try to ingratiate the French Canadians. His fellow members were Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase, and his cousin John Carroll, SJ, was asked to accompany them. The mission was sent too late to be successful, but it established Carroll as a national figure. On July 4, 1776, he was elected to Congress from Maryland. He took his seat on July 18, and on August 2 signed his customary "Charles Carroll of Carrollton" to the Declaration of Independence, which his efforts had influenced Maryland to support.

Carroll was placed on the Board of War, which during the Conway Cabal "investigated" George Washington at Valley Forge. He resigned from Congress in 1778, after the consummation of the French alliance; he also refused to accept reelection later in the year, and he did not return to national politics until 1789, when he became a U.S. senator under the new constitution. He had refused, moreover, during a Maryland political emergency, to go as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, but he worked for ratification, becoming strongly and permanently identified with the new Federalist party. His senate service ended in 1792 when Congress passed a law forbidding state legislators from serving in Congress. Carroll's service in the Maryland body continued until 1800, the year of the Federalist overthrow. He viewed with alarm the election of Thomas Jefferson and opposed most Republican measures. He later reprobated the War of 1812.

Carroll spent his old age in studious pursuits, one of his extensive projects being a comparative study of religions. He also interested himself in charitable and educational movements and served as president of the American Colonization Society, which founded Liberia. He was identified with companies promoting westward expansion and, as a director, laid the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio's new railroad on July 4, 1828. This was his last appearance in public. He lived four years longer. At the time of his death at the age of 95, he was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Bibliography: e. h. smith, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (Cambridge, Mass. 1942).

[e. h. smith]

About this article

Carroll, Charles

Updated About content Print Article


Carroll, Charles