Charles Carroll Biography

Early Life and Education

Born on September 19, 1737, in Annapolis, Maryland, Charles Carroll was immersed from birth into a family where Catholic faith and prosperous society intertwined. At age ten, Charles began his schooling at the Jesuit school at Bohemia Manor, learning under the discreet but vigilant eye of his guardians who maneuvered the precarious stance Catholics held in Protestant-majority Maryland.

By eleven, the horizon of Charles's educational journey expanded drastically as he ventured to St. Omers in French Flanders. While this move extracted him from the immediate familial sphere, it plunged him into a rigorous regime of classical studies. Amidst the intellectual rigor, Charles's exposure to a broader scholastic community forged bonds with fellow Catholics, bonds that would endure as lifelines as he traversed the intricate landscapes of education and politics in later years.

Following his foundations in Flanders, Charles's scholarly path led him to Paris and later London. Paris, a city bursting with intellectual currents and radical ideas, exposed Charles to a liberal yet challenging convex of educational diversity. Here, he attended the College of Louis the Grande, refining his acquaintance with philosophy, law, and the enlightening encounters with the works of political philosophers like Locke and Montesquieu. Their ideals of civil liberty and social justice began to etch profound impressions on his youthful ideology.

At twenty-three, Charles concluded his immersion into European philosophies and law at the Inner Temple in London, an institution renowned for shaping legal minds albeit restricted significantly in terms of actual practice opportunities for Catholics. His legal studies here were understated interactions with the systemic biases against Catholics but fostered a scholarly resilience that would chart the course of his return to Maryland.

Resettling in Maryland in 1765, but endowed with extensive land inherited from his family, Charles found himself at a juncture where education merged seamlessly with an obligation to colonial leadership.1

Young Charles Carroll studying at a desk in Europe

Political Involvement and Revolutionary Activities

Carroll's transition from a man of thought to a man of action found its public arena when a storm surged primary in the form of debate through letters. Writing under the pseudonym "First Citizen," he forged his views sharply against "Antillon" (Daniel Dulany), a staunch Loyalist. In these writings that sprawled across the pages of the Maryland Gazette in 1773, Charles's articulated rebuke was not merely academic; it stemmed from a visceral dissatisfaction with the undemocratic taxation imposed on the colonies. These letters burgeoned into highly influential texts that swung public sentiment toward a broader acceptance of independence in Maryland, igniting Carroll's emergence as a profound influencer in revolutionary politics.

While Carroll's persona as the 'First Citizen' was grounded in principled rhetoric, his physical involvement in revolutionary acts was no less fervent. This was starkly evident during the infamous incident involving the Peggy Stewart, a cargo ship laden with taxed tea. In a dramatic manifestation of rebellion reminiscent of Boston's more famous Tea Party, Carroll endorsed the burning of the Peggy Stewart in Annapolis Harbor in October 1774. His approval and participation embodied a distinct echo of colonial defiance against British injustices and furthered his image as a formidable resistance leader.

Inescapably drawn into the nucleus of new governance, Carroll's role expanded vastly when he was appointed one of Maryland's delegates for the Continental Congress in 1776. Although his arrival post-dated the initial vote declaring independence, he was instantaneously immersed in the doctrinal work, diligently signing the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776.

Beyond his philosophical and logistical contributions to the war effort, Carroll's fervor extended into tangible contributions that rallied support for the revolutionary cause. This included a pivotal deployment alongside Benjamin Franklin in a diplomatic mission to Quebec, aimed at consolidating Canadian support for the colonials — while ultimately unsuccessful, this endeavor featured Carroll's diplomatic acumen in a critical international foray.

His advocacy took on a methodic component as well, truly identifiable during his service to formulate Maryland's governmental frameworks. Elected to redraft the Articles of Confederation and later to mold Maryland's Constitution and Declaration of Rights in 1776, Carroll instrumentalized his deep-rooted legal expertise and enlightenment-driven insights into foundational legislative structures.2 His foresight and participatory governance enabled Maryland to distill principles of liberty into workable policies conducive to the righteousness and fairness he articulated earlier as 'First Citizen'.

Transitioning to roles at greater transcolonial levels, Carroll's political compass led him into the early currents of new national politics as one of Maryland's first two senators in the United States Senate from 1789. Within these halls, he shaped emergent federal laws and aided in dovetailing Maryland's governance into the federal structure such as on the Bill of Rights. A complex yet enriching chapter, his tenure in the U.S. Senate saw him harmonizing paradigms of state sovereignty with exhaustively formulated national interests.

The burning of the Peggy Stewart ship in Annapolis Harbor

Religious Influence and Advocacy

Charles Carroll's staunch Catholicism profoundly influenced his views on governance and underscored his advocacy for religious tolerance—a bold stance in a period dominated by Protestant ideologies. His experiences, shaped by a background in a minority faith in both Europe and colonial America, significantly informed his constitutional outlook and his efforts for harmony among diverse religious groups in the newly formed United States.

Operating in an era where Protestant beliefs were the norm and anti-Catholic laws were prevalent, Carroll's religious identity set him apart and pushed him toward a vigorous defense of religious freedom. His education in Europe exposed him to a spectrum of philosophical thoughts that championed the natural rights of individuals, including religious choice. This framing pervaded his political engagements, where he leveraged his position to challenge the infringement on these natural rights manifesting as religious biases in colonial laws.

Carroll's commitment to this cause is evident in his substantial role during the drafting of Maryland's Constitution and Declaration of Rights. He worked tenaciously to ensure these documents set precursors for religious liberty. His actions encapsulated a broader belief that governance should liberate and protect diverse religiosity as a fundamental human respect. Through his verbose engagements—both penned and voiced—Carroll espoused that religious tolerance was indispensable in the quest for a harmonious and pluralistic society.

His advocacy was also reflective of a personal paradigm, where his faith, despite being in the religious minority, never hindered his societal contributions but rather enriched his perspective on the broader discussions of freedom and human rights. This stance starkly contrasted the prevailing suspicions and restrictions placed on Catholics. By embodying the principles of tolerance and championing these causes at the foundational level of American legislation, Carroll helped to scaffold an environment in which religious multiplicity was safeguarded rather than suppressed.

Carroll's efforts coincided with vital moments in American religious history, as seen with the catholic-led opposition against the establishment of a Protestant episcopacy—a campaign Carroll supported given its implications for religious parity in the nation.3 His influence, solidifying a framework within which diverse religious practices could coexist respectfully, foregrounded a critical ontological shift hesitantly embraced even amidst his Protestant contemporaries.

Economic Ventures and Legacy

Charles Carroll's career extended far beyond his contributions as a statesman and advocate of religious freedoms; it also encompassed significant commercial endeavors that significantly impacted economic development in Maryland and set a precedent for future American infrastructure projects. Among his most noteworthy initiatives was his engagement with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, America's first commercial long-distance track, which helped set the stage for the nation's expansion westward and industrial growth.

Carroll's involvement began when he sided with the project's advocates, echoing his broader vision for a connected and thriving economic landscape. He lent his name and influence to garner support for this groundbreaking infrastructure, and he also demonstrated his commitment by purchasing $40,000 in state-backed securities. The railroad's significance was marked symbolically and historically when, at the age of 91, Carroll laid the cornerstone for the B&O Railroad on July 4, 1828, definitively tying the venture to American ideals of progress and enterprise.

His investments and innovations did not halt at the mechanical thunder of locomotives. As one of Maryland's largest landholders, Carroll managed vast acreages, which contributed to his wealth and that of the surrounding regions. His estates utilized advanced agricultural techniques and were some of the most lucrative and productive lands in the state. This prosperity underpinned regional economic sustenance and showed Carroll's adept management skills that he likely honed during his extensive European education.

Carroll was a pioneering investor in banking institutions such as the Bank of Maryland and the Bank of Baltimore. It was more than just financial acumen at play; his involvement provided a backbone of monetary stability for a growing economic framework crucial for a young nation. Beyond banking, he supported public works and infrastructure advancements including:

  • Roads
  • Bridges
  • Canals, such as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

These ventures fostered commerce and connected communities.

Despite being known for his immense wealth and substantial land holdings, Carroll's attitude towards his wealth was modern in his views of societal responsibility. Recognized as the wealthiest of all the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, he leveraged his resources for broader societal benefits. His economic engagements were intrinsically linked to his vision for a prosperous democratic republic, wherein he saw capital not merely as a means of personal enrichment but as a pivotal resource for nation-building.

Upon his death in 1832 at the venerable age of 95, Charles Carroll left behind a legacy deeply embedded in the American fabric through his political foresight, religious advocacy, and profound influence on economic development. His foresight in railroad development particularly heralded technological and economic directions that the United States would pursue thereafter. He had understood and implemented the embedding of robust infrastructure as crucial to economic and political independence.4

91-year-old Charles Carroll laying the cornerstone for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad


  1. Birzer BJ. American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll. Intercollegiate Studies Institute; 2010.
  2. Geiger M. Daniel Carroll, A Framer of the Constitution. The Catholic Historical Review. 1943;29(1):47-72.
  3. Hanley TP. The American Revolution and Religion: Maryland 1770-1800. The Catholic University of America Press; 1971.
  4. McDermott SP. Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary. Scepter Publishers; 2002.