Charles Carroll - (1737 - 1832)

Charles Carroll Signature

Charles Carroll Biography

Charles Carroll Was a descendant of Daniel Carroll, an Irish gentleman, who emigrated from England to America about the year 1659. He settled in the province of Maryland, where, a few years after, he received the appointment of judge, and register of the land office, and became agent for Lord Baltimore.

Charles Carroll, the father of the subject of the present sketch, was born in 1702. His son, Charles Carroll, surnamed of Carrollton, was born September 20, 1737 (O.S.), at Annapolis, in the province of Maryland.

At the age of eight years, he was sent to France for the purpose of obtaining an education. He was placed at a college of English jesuits, at St. Omer's, where he remained for six years. Afterwards he staid some time at Rheims, whence he was removed to the college of Lewis le Grand. On leaving college, he entered upon the study of the civil law, at Bourges; from which place he returned to Paris, where he remained till 1757, in which year he removed to London, and commenced the study of law. He returned to America in 1764, an accomplished scholar, and an accomplished man Although he had lived abroad, and might naturally be sup posed to have imbibed a predilection for the monarchical institutions of Europe, he entered with great spirit into thc controversy between the colonies and Great Britain, which, about the time of his arrival, was beginning to assume a most serious aspect.

A few years following the repeal of the stamp act, the violent excitement occasioned by that measure, in a degree subsided throughout all the colonies. In this calmer state of things the people of Maryland participated. But about the year 1771, great commotion was excited in that province, in consequence of the arbitrary conduct of Governor Eden and his council, touching the fees of the civil officers of the colonial government. These fees, as was noticed in the life of Mr. Paca, had become, in the estimation of the popular branch of the assembly, from the manner in which they were charged, exceedingly exorbitant. To correct thc abuses growing out of the indefinite character of the law, a new law was framed; and, after being passed by the lower house, was sent to the upper house for their concurrence. This, however, was refused; and the assembly was prorogued, without coming to any agreement on the subject. Shortly after, Governor Eden issued his proclamation, the ostensible object of which was to prevent oppressions and extortions on the part of the officers, in exacting unreasonable and excessive fees. The proclamation was in reality, however, highly exceptionable in the view of the people, as it affected to settle the point, which was the prerogative only of the people. The fees in question were considered in the light of a tax, the power to lay which the people justly claimed to themselves.

The controversy which grew out of this arbitrary exercise of power on the part of Governor Eden, became exceedingly spirited. It involved the great principles of the revolution. Several writers of distinguished character enlisted themselves on different sides of the question. Among these writers, no one was more conspicuous than Mr. Carroll. The natural consequence of his firmness in defence of the rights of the people was, that great confidence was reposed in him on their part, and he was looked up to as one who was eminently qualified to lead in the great struggle which was approaching between the colonies and the parent country.

From what has been observed respecting Mr. Carroll, it may justly be inferred that his mind was made up at an early day, as to the course duty required him to take in respect to this coming storm. An anecdote is related of him, which will illustrate his influence with the people of Maryland. By a resolution of the delegates of Maryland, on the 22d day of June, 1774, the importation of tea was prohibited. Sometime after, however, a vessel arrived at Annapolis, having a quantity of this article on board. This becoming known, the people assembled in great multitudes, to take effectual measures to prevent its being landed. At length the excitement became so high, that the personal safety of the captain of the vessel became endangered. In this state of things, the friends of the captain made application to Mr. Carroll, to interpose his influence with the people in his behalf. The public indignation was too great to be easily allayed. This Mr. Carroll perceived, and advised the captain and his friends, as the only probable means of safety to himself, to set fire to the vessel, and burn it to the water's edge. This alternative was indeed severe; but, as it was obviously a measure of necessity, the vessel was drawn out, her sails were set, her colours unfurled, in which attitude the fire was applied to her, and, in the presence of an immense concourse of people, she was consumed. This atonement was deemed satisfactory, and the captain was no farther molested.

In the early part of 1776, Mr. Carroll, whose distinguished exertions in Maryland had become extensively known, was appointed by congress, in connection with Dr. Franklin and Samuel Chase, on a commission to proceed to Canada, to persuade the people of that province to relinquish their allegiance to the crown of England, and unite with the Americans in their struggle for independence.

In the discharge of their duties, the commissioners met with unexpected difficulties. The defeat and death of Montgomery, together with the compulsion which the American troops found it necessary to exercise, in obtaining the means of support in that province, conspired to diminish the ardour of the Canadians in favour of a union with the colonies, and even, at length, to render them hostile to the measure. To conciliate their affections, and to bring to a favourable result the objector their mission, the commissioners employed their utmost ingenuity and influence. They issued their proclamations, in which they assured the people of the disposition of congress to remedy the temporary evils, which the inhabitants suffered in consequence of the presence of the American troops, so soon as it should be in their power to provide specie, and clothing, and provisions. A strong tide, however, was now setting against the American colonies, the strength of which was much increased by the roman catholic priests, who, as a body, had always been opposed to any connection with the united colonies. Despairing of accomplishing the wishes of congress, the commissioners at length abandoned the object, and returned to Philadelphia.

The great subject of independence was, at this time, undergoing a discussion in the hall of congress. It has been already noticed, that the Maryland delegation, in that body, had been instructed by their convention to refuse their assent to a declaration of independence. On returning to Maryland, Mr. Carroll resumed his seat in the convention, and, with the advocates of a declaration of independence, urged the withdrawal of the above instructions, and the granting of power to their delegates to unite in such a declaration. The friends of the measure had at length the happiness, on the 28th of June, of procuring a new set of instructions, which secured the vote of the important province of Maryland in favour of the independence of America.

On the same day on which the great question was decided in congress, in favour of a declaration of independence, Mr. Carroll was elected a delegate to that body from Maryland, and accordingly took his seat on the eighteenth of the same month.

Although not a member of congress at the time the question of a declaration of independence was settled, Mr. Carroll had the honour of greatly contributing to a measure so auspicious to the interests of his country, by assisting in procuring the withdrawal of the prohibiting instructions, and the adoption of a new set, by which the Maryland delegates found them selves authorized to vote for independence. He had the honour, also, of affixing his signature to the declaration on the second of August, at which time the members generally signed an engrossed copy, which had been prepared for that purpose. From the printed journals of congress, it would appear, that the declaration was signed on the fourth of July, the same day on which the final question was taken. This is an error. The declaration, as first published, had only the name of Hancock affixed to it; and it was only on the nineteenth of July, that a resolution was adopted, directing the declaration to be engrossed on parchment, with a view to a general signature on the part of the members.

The truth of this statement may be inferred from the following letter, addressed by Mr. Secretary Adams to Mr. Carroll, on the twenty-fourth of June, 1824:

"In pursuance of a joint resolution of the two houses of congress, a copy of which is hereto annexed, and by direction of the president of the United States, I have the honour of transmitting to you two fac simile copies of the original declaration of independence, engrossed on parchment, conformably to a secret resolution of congress of nineteenth July, 1776, to be signed by every member of congress, and accordingly signed on the second day of August of the same year. Of this document, unparalleled in the annals of mankind, the original, deposited in this department, exhibits your name as one of the subscribers. The rolls herewith transmitted, are copies as exact as the art of engraving can present, of the instrument itself, as well as of the signers to it.

"While performing the duty thus assigned me, permit me to felicitate you, and the country, which is reaping the reward of your labours, as well that your hand was affixed to this record of glory, as that, after the lapse of near half a century, you survive to receive this tribute of reverence and gratitude, from your children, the present fathers of the land.

"With every sentiment of veneration, I have the honour," &,c.

A signature to the declaration, was an important step for every individual member of congress. It exposed the signers of it to the confiscation of their estates, and the loss of life, should the British arms prove victorious. Few men had more at stake in respect to property than Mr. Carroll, he being considered the richest individual in the colonies. But wealth was of secondary value in his estimation, in comparison with the rights and liberties of his country. When asked whether he would annex his name, he replied, "most willingly," and seizing a pen, instantly subscribed "to this record of glory." "There go a few millions," said some one who watched the pen as it traced the name of "Charles Carroll, of Carrollton," on the parchment. Millions would indeed have gone, for his fortune was princely, had not success crowned the American arms, in the long fought contest.

Mr. Carroll was continued a member of congress until 1778, at which time he resigned his seat in that body, and devoted himself more particularly to the interests of his native state. He had served in her convention in 1776, in the latter part of which year he had assisted in drafting her constitution. Soon after, the new constitution went into operation, and Mr. Carroll was chosen a member of the senate of Maryland. In 1781 he was re-elected to the same station, and in 1788, on the adoption of the federal constitution, was chosen to the senate of the United States.

In 1791 Mr. Carroll relinquished his seat in the national senate, and was again called to the senate of his native state. This office he continued to hold until 1804, at which time the democratic party was successful in electing their candidate, to the exclusion of this long tried and faithful patriot. At this time, Mr. Carroll took leave of public life, and sought in retirement the quiet enjoyment of his family circle.

Since the date of his retirement from public office, few incidents have occurred in the life of this worthy man, which demand particular notice. Like a peaceful stream, his days have glided along, and have continued to be lengthened out, while the generation of illustrious men, with whom he acted on the memorable fourth of July, 1776, have all descended to the tomb.

At the age of nearly ninety-two years, he alone survives. [Note: This book was published in 1829. Carroll died November 14, 1832.] "He seems on aged oak, standing alone on the plain, which time has spared a little longer, after all its contemporaries have been levelled with the dust. Sole survivor of an assembly of as great men as the world has witnessed, in a transaction, one of the most important that history records; what thoughts, what reflections, must at times fill his soul! If he dwell on the past, how touching its recollections; if he sur vey the present, how happy, how joyous, how full of the fruition of hope, which his ardent patriotism indulged; if he glance at the future, how must the prospect of his country's advancement almost bewilder his weakened conceptions. Fortunate, distinguished patriot! Interesting relic of the past!"

To few men has it been permitted to number so many years—to none, to have filled them up more honourably and usefully, than Charles Carroll. Happy in the recollection of the past—conscious of a life well spent, and possessing

A peace above all earthly dignity—
A still and quiet conscience.

He may well hope to pass the remaining hours of the evening of his life in tranquillity; and may be assured, that when called to follow his illustrious predecessors to the grave, liberty, and intelligence, and patriotism, and affection, will weep at his departure, while they will rejoice that his honour is placed where no accident can reach it, and no stain can tarnish it.

SOURCE: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich