The only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

The rain cancelled our town’s Fourth of July fireworks display, so we watched the televised grand concert and fireworks display in Washington, D.C.

As I watched, I thought about the fundamental role the Christian faith had in the founding of the United States of America, and the Founding Mothers and Fathers.

Although it’s common knowledge that all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Christians — well, there were those two hybrid Episcopalian-Deists — their specific allegiances are less so.

One website claims the following: 32 were Episcopalian/Anglican, 13 were Congregationalist, 12 were Presbyterian, 2 were Quaker, 2 were Unitarian or Universalist, and one was Catholic.

Comparing the majority to the minority in terms of percentages, the signers were 57.1 percent Episcopalian/Anglican and 1.8 percent Catholic.

Today, according to Pew Research, Episcopalians/Anglicans are about 1.2 percent of the adult population of the United States, or about 3 million. Catholics are 22 percent of the adult population, or about 77.4 million.

That one Catholic who signed the Declaration of Independence was Charles Carroll. He owned a plantation in Maryland, and his cousin was Archbishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States.

The fact that there was even one Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence is a sort of miracle, because Catholics experienced heavy religious persecution during colonial times.

That strain of anti-Catholicism was very strong in American history, diminishing gradually but never entirely disappearing. It wears different masks, but it’s still there.

Because he was a Catholic, Maryland law prevented Charles Carroll from holding political office, practicing law or voting. The law couldn’t stop him from becoming rich, however, and Carroll became one of the richest men in the American colonies.

When tensions began to rise between Great Britain and her American colonies, Carroll became a powerful advocate for American independence. He became a member of the Continental Congress and, after the war, a member of the Maryland Senate.

The man who once could not vote or hold office lived long enough to be the last surviving signatory of the Declaration of Independence. He died on Nov. 14, 1832. He is buried at the Doughoregan Manor Chapel in Ellicott City, Maryland.

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