May 07, 2010
American Cicero: the life of Charles Carroll
By Br. Benet S. Exton *

By Br. Benet S. Exton *

Birzer, Bradley J. Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, February 2010. ISBN 978-1-933859-89-X $25.00

Charles Carroll of Carrollton made history partly because he was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. Born the bastard son of Charles Carroll of Annapolis, Maryland, Charles’ father only later recognized him as his son after marrying his mother. The Carrolls were one of the wealthiest families in the American colonies, but because they were Catholics, they were limited by the anti-Catholic laws in Maryland.

Thus, Charles Carroll was sent to France and England for his education. He studied at the Jesuit St. Omer School where he studied Latin, Greek, and the classics. He later went to England to study law. After finishing his studies he returned to Maryland and became involved in politics.

Anti-Catholic laws, which did not recognize him as a citizen, disenfranchised Charles from voting, holding office, and exercising other offices of a regular. However, the laws did not keep Charles Carroll from speaking out, writing to raise awareness about injustice or encouraging the fight against corruption.

In the 1760s, Carroll had recognized that the American colonies needed to be independent from the British Empire. He pointed out that the mother country was not treating them as equals, but rather as slaves or servants.

In the 1770s, he wrote in local newspapers anonymously against British local corruption in Maryland. Anonymity was little cover, because many people discovered that he was behind the columns. Over time, Charles Carroll became influential in Maryland and American politics despite his inability to hold office.

History has forgotten what Charles Carroll did for Maryland and for the United States. He had great influence on how the Senate of Maryland was created and as well as the U.S. Senate. Carroll was well received by some of the Founding Fathers such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington. He was also a major influence on Alexis de Tocqueville as he wrote “Democracy in America.”  Carroll was also influential in making Catholicism less demonized by the rest of the American society. Proud of his faith, he was always loyal to the Catholic Church. His Jesuit education and his Catholic faith determined the path he trod in his daily life and political activity. Charles Carroll served in the Continental Congress, the Maryland Senate and Assembly and was one of the two first U.S. Senators from Maryland after the establishment of Congress.

Bradley Birzer’s book covers much of what Carroll wrote and did during his political life. The book itself is not a biography of Carroll’s entire life. Instead, Birzer puts an emphasis on Carroll’s early life even though Carroll lived for 32 years after leaving politics in 1800. Essentially, the book is not a true biography as much as it is a political biography. Nevertheless, the book is great since Birzer reclaims Carroll’s place in history by making him known again.

The book is a great read and provides insights into Carroll’s mind and his politics. It is highly recommended to those interested in the Founding Fathers, the American Revolution, U.S. Catholic history, and the history of Maryland.

Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., St. Gregory's University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.
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