Charles Carroll

On the flight to San Francisco last week I started reading American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll by Bradley J. Birzer. The life of the Carroll family is facinating to me, not only because Charles was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, but also more broadly because of the life he was prepared for by his father, even in the face of a cultural and legal environment that prohibited their participation in the public square:

In 1757, Charles Carroll of Annapolis finally married his common-law wife, Elizabeth Brooke, officially named Charles his son, and declared them both beneficiaries in his will. No record explains fully the reasons for this otherwise devout Roman Catholic to live with a woman for years without making her his legal wife or declaring their son his heir, keeping him a bastard. Almost certainly, Charles Carroll the elder hoped to avoid penalties as detailed—though rarely enforced—by the anti-Catholic statutes of the Province of Maryland. The Maryland Assembly began passing anti-Catholic laws in earnest immediately following a Protestant coup in the province in 1689. Undoing the Act of Toleration of 1649 and its reaffirmation and restoration in 1658 (perhaps the most liberal laws in the colonies), on November 22, 1689, the assembly forbade Roman Catholic participation in military or civil matters. Three years later, the assembly disbarred all Roman Catholics. In 1704, the assembly legally closed the Church of St. Mary’s, the original Catholic chapel in the province. Additionally, over the next decades, the assembly taxed Irish Catholics more heavily than Protestants, demanded antipapist oaths from office holders, and heavily regulated the education of Catholic children.

Toleration ebbs and flows.