This essay was originally published at The Imaginative Conservative and is published here in honor of Carroll’s birthday, September 19.
The last of the American signers of the Declaration of Independence to pass from this world, Charles Carroll of Carroll was also one of the most formally educated of the American founders. Living seventeen years in France and England, Carroll earned his B.A. in the traditional liberal arts and an M.A. in philosophy. He also studied civil law in France and common law in England. Irish immigrants to the English American colonies, the Carrolls suffered at the hands of anti-Catholic bigots in Maryland for three generations.
When Charles Carroll of Carrollton came into the world, his parents remained unmarried because of the law, and they chose to send their only son to live in France. Had they educated him in Maryland, the authorities had the legal sanction to remove children—taught in a “Catholic fashion”—from the parents and place them permanently with English Protestants. Though America has inherited the title, “the land of the free,” its thirteen English colonies were anything but tolerant. More than any other colony, Maryland promoted religious toleration for nearly three decades of the seventeenth century, but a coup in the name of William and Mary in 1689 ended that for nearly a century. Maryland went from being one of the single most tolerant societies in the world to one of the least tolerant almost overnight.
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