This weekend marks another celebration of America’s birthday of Independence from our colonial rulers. It is typical to praise the founding fathers for what they did in 1776 and the subsequent years to lay down the foundation for this country. Very often, when people talk about the founding fathers they are referring to Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, or one of the many currently well-known statesmen of the Revolution. This year though, when people sing the praises of the Founding Fathers, I would urge them to think of one more man, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.
All the men that joined together to sign to the Declaration of Independence took a great risk in putting their name on that document. However, not many took as a great a risk as Charles Carroll, a representative from Maryland at the Second Continental Congress. Carroll’s prominence was well known throughout the colonies, and he was considered to be the wealthiest colonist at the time of the signing, as noted by Samuel Gregg is his book Tea Party Catholic. With that wealth brought distinction for his ideals, stemming from his education in Catholic schools and his Catholic faith. By signing the Declaration he risked not only his life, but his entire family fortune as well.
The Declaration of Independence clearly contains recognition of a higher being. The Bible is cited in almost 34 percent of the founders’ writings. While some Americans today may argue that religion and Christianity have no place in the political world, we can say that Charles Carroll, at least, thought differently. Carroll wrote to James McHenry, the Secretary of War at the time,
[W]ithout morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure, [and] which denounces against wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.
Carroll knew early on in this country’s history that in order to maintain a free government religious, freedom was also necessary. Gregg points out that all of Carroll’s biographers agree that his Catholic faith influenced his political and economic beliefs. He believed, as does the church today, that there are certain areas that government cannot venture into. Carroll had known this from his own persecution for being Catholic in what was a Protestant ruled kingdom. Despite the time of revolution, and the likely threat of suspicion from the Anglican English Crown, Charles Carroll continued to demand freedom from a suppressive government, his own faith being a direct target. His motivation was to ensure that all men were treated equally, with the understanding that religion played a definitive role in maintaining a moral state.
This Friday, remember that there was indeed one representative of the Catholic faith present to sign the Declaration of Independence, and that he risked more than most could even imagine by putting his name on that document. He did this in order that hundreds of years from then we could have what he did not, the ability to practice our religion free from fear of government intrusion. And his example stands as one for those who fight to retain that same freedom today.
For more on Carroll and religious liberty, in the context of the recent Supreme Court Decision regarding Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, see also Bruce Walker’s recent column at The Morning Sun.