Charles Carroll of Carollton was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, and the last of the signers to die.
Born the bastard son of Charles Carroll of Annapolis, Maryland, he was only recognized by his father as his son when the elder married his mother. Although the Carrolls were one of the wealthiest families in the American colonies, because they were Catholics they were limited by anti-Catholic laws in Maryland. Carroll was sent to France and England to receive his education, studying at the Jesuit St. Omer School where he learned Latin and Greek among many other things, and later went to England to study law.
After finishing his studies he returned to Maryland and became involved in politics. Unfortunately he was limited by anti-Catholic laws, which did not recognize him as a citizen - this disenfranchised him from voting, holding any office, and other fights of citizens. Such laws did not keep Carroll from speaking out and writing against injustices as well as encouraging other tactics to banish corruption. In the 1760s, Carroll recognized that the American colonies needed to be independent from the British Empire - that the mother country was not treating them as equals, but as slaves or servants.
During the 1770s, he wrote anonymous columns in local newspapers against British local corruption in Maryland, although most readers deduced his identity. Over time he became influential in Maryland and American politics despite not being allowed to vote or hold public office according to the anti-Catholic laws.
Bradley Birzer’s book covers much of what Carroll wrote and accomplished during his political life. Rather than constructing a biography of Carroll’s entire life, Birzer covers his early life prior to his leaving politics in 1800, after which he lived another 32 years. Birzer reclaims Carroll’s place in history by making him known again; history has forgotten what Carroll did for Maryland and for the United States. He had great influence on the creation of the Senate of Maryland and of the U.S. Senate. He was well-received by some of the bigger names among the Founders such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, and he was also a major influence on Alexis de Tocqueville in his writing of Democracy in America.
Carroll, a proud and loyal Catholic, helped make Catholicism better received by the rest of the American society. His education and faith influenced him greatly in his daily life and in his politics, and he served in the Continental Congress and the Maryland Senate and Assembly in addition to becoming one of the two first U.S. Senators from Maryland.
Birzer’s American Cicero (so titled as a nod to Carroll’s love of Latin and Greek classics,
which were major influences on his writings and his reasoning) includes in its appendix two of Carroll’s writings that helped to make him known. Endnotes, a bibliography and an index are also provided. In the many quotes from Carroll and other contemporaries, Birzer leaves the grammar and spelling as they were in Carroll’s day; common sense allows readers to recognize the modern word equivalencies.
This great read provides insights into Carroll’s mind and politics and is highly recommended to those interested in the Founders, the American Revolution, U.S. Catholic history, and Maryland. Author Bradley J. Birzer holds the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in History at Hillsdale College and is the author or editor of four previous books.