Is Anybody There?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says Yahweh Sabaoth" Zach 4:6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dio di Signore, nella Sua volontà è nostra pace!" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin 1759

Sunday, November 14, 2010

American Cicero

The Life of Charles Carroll
Bradley J. Birzer
2010 ISI Books
(Part of the Lives of the Founders series)

On this day in 1832 at the age of 95, Charles Carroll of Carrollton died. For those who actually know who he is, their knowledge is limitted to some or all of the following facts:
1: He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence
2: He was the only Catholic to do so
3: He was the last surviving signer outliving only Thomas Jefferson & John Adams
4: His cousin Daniel Carroll attended the Constitutional Convention & signed the Constitution (He also signed the Articles of Confederation in 1781)
5: Another cousin, John Carroll, was the 1st American Bishop (& later 1st Archbishop)

For the most part, he has been 1 of the forgotten Founding Fathers. In recent years we have seen plenty of books on John (& Abigail) Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson & George Washington. There has even been a book on Betsy Ross. But beyond mention in these books most of the other Founding Fathers, including some of the most influential, have been ignored. In 2009 Carroll was listed as 1 of those who was forgotten but shouldn't be in The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers. Fortunately that oversight has been corrected. In recent years 2 biographies of Charles Carroll that I know of have come out. The latest is this book by Bradley. J. Birzer which came out earlier this year.
Charles Carroll was born in Annapolis, Maryland on 19 September 1739. His father, Charles Carroll of Annapolis (CCA), was not married to his mother, Elizabeth Brooke, at the time of his birth. Eventually his father did marry his mother & officially acknowledge Charles as his son. While he wasn't officially acknowledged as CCA's son until after getting his education, CCA did insure that Charles Carroll an excellent education. In 1748 Charles Carroll sailed to France to attend the College of St. Omer's. The Jesuit run school was known as the 'seminary of martyrs-the school of confessors. After finishing there he studied at Rheims & Louis-le-Grand in Paris. This Christian humanist education was the key that enabled him to accomplish all he did later in life to help start & establish the USA. In 1759 he went to London to study law.
Coming back to the Maryland in 1765, he soon found himself caught up in the events leading up to the American Revolution. He also found himself in a very unusual position of speaking out for freedom in a state where he was disenfrancised. But that didn't stop him. He kept writing & speaking out. Early in 1776 he found himself appointed by the Continental Congress as a member of a delegation to go to Catholic Quebec. Other members of the delegation were Fr. John Carroll & Benjamin Franklin. While they were not able to win Quebec to the cause, the trip did have some long reaching effects. Fr. Carroll stuck up a strong friendship with Ben Franklin. After the war, the Papal nuncio to France met with Franklin to sound out reaction to the establishing of a heirarchy in the USA. Based on Franklin's recommendation Fr. Carroll was appointed "Superior of the Mission" in the USA & later became the 1st US Bishop.
Finally he found himself appointed as a representative for Maryland at the Continental Congress. The appointment came on 4 July 1776 which meant that he couldn't vote for Independence or the Declaration. But in August he did sign it as a sitting member of the Congress. In the years that followed, Charles Carroll was active both in Maryland & on the National level. & while he didn't attend the Constitutional Convention his cousin Daniel did. & Charles wrote out what he saw as important to a strong & healthy government that would protect the liberties of all. Among those things was the need for a Senate. He was appointed as 1 of the 1st 2 Senators from Maryland to the 1st Congress.
While I have just given a very condensed version of Charles Carroll's life, Birzer's biography does an excellent job of helping us to understand where Carroll came from, & the deep debt we owe to him for the very existance of our country. The book also helps us to understand the deep debt us Catholics owe to the Carrolls in enabling us to be able to take our place, albeit not always welcome, in the political & social life of America.
Birzer starts by giving us a look at the education Carroll recieved in Europe & how it prepared him for the role he was to play in the creation & establishing of the USA. That education gave Carroll the philosophical & legal knowledge needed for him to so effectively speak out before, during & after the Revolutionary era. He also looks at how Carroll's Catholicism played an important role. As I already mentioned, before the War Catholics were disenfrancised in Maryland as well as many other colonies. Birzer shows how Carroll's desire to restore those rights to Catholics that other Englishmen enjoyed was a huge motivation in all he did.
As Birzer admits in his introduction, this biography is not comprehensive. he says that his main concern was with "Charles's liberal and religious education and his employment of this education at the service of the American (and Western) Republic." That means that the main focus was the period I talked about above. IMHO he succeeds in doing what he set out to do. & without making it dry, dull or boring in the process. he presents his subject in a way that was enjoyable & understandable for the average person who may not have have an extensive background in the Revolutionary War era.
At the same time, for those of us who do know something about the era, it offers some new insights. By the time I finsihed the book I came to have a greater appreciation of the very important role Charles Carroll played in the start of America as well as his views & perspective on the events of the time. In doing so, Birzer also provides us with a better understanding of our current situation. Many of Charles Carroll's concerns about the issues of his time are just as current today. 1 of those issues that was of prime concern was the issuing of fiat money & the damage it would do to the economy.
My only complaint, if you can call it that, is that this book wasn't a comprehensive biography of Charles Carroll. While I did come to better understand who Carroll was & his importance to us, the book left me wanting to know more about Charles Carroll. Birzer did an excellent job in focusing in on the part of his life that he did that it left me hungry for the rest of Carroll's life story. & the fact that he left me hungry for more is probably 1 of the best things I can say to explain my recommending reading this book.
PS If you want to know why he rightly calls Carroll the American Cicero you will have to read the book. It is impossible for me to explain it without giving away too much of the heart of Carroll's life story as found in the book. I will say however, that his comparison is a valid one & the book will let you see why.

Bradley J. Birzer holds the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in History at Hillsdale College. He also serves as chairman of the board of academic advisors for the Center for the American Idea in Houston & as a Non-Resident Fellow for the McConnell Center, University of Louisville. Among his other works is J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth. This book looks at the Catholic heart of The Lord of the Rings. I highly recommend reading it as well.


  • At 14/11/10 12:49 PM , Blogger Patrick Button said...

    Cool! Another great Catholic revolutionary was John Barry, an Irishman who captained a ship during the Revolution, and later organized the U.S. Navy as a commodore. More info:

  • At 15/11/10 12:12 AM , Blogger Al said...

    Ptrick, Thought you might like this since, if memory serves, you are a history major.
    Will check this John Barry out. Althhough I will admit that when I hear the name I think of a different person, the composer who wrote most of the soundtracks for Bond movies (among other things) in the 60s-80s.


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