First Citizen: Charles Carroll of Carrollton


Charles Carroll of CarrolltonBorn in Annapolis on September 19, 1737, Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the wealthiest man in North America when he signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776, as a member of Maryland’s delegation to the Second Continental Congress. He was also the only Roman Catholic signer of that document, a significant achievement in a time when Catholics were prohibited from politics and barred from practicing law. Thus Carroll, as a leader in America’s bid for Independence, simultaneously had much to lose, in terms of his personal wealth, as well as much to gain, as a disenfranchised Irish, Roman Catholic.

The Carroll saga begins with the arrival of Charles Carroll’s grandfather, known as Charles Carroll the Settler, in Maryland on October 1, 1688. With the downfall of his Catholic patrons, and the Calvert’s loss of proprietary privilege in Maryland, due to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Carroll the Settler lost his commission as attorney general, a political appointment which lasted only weeks. Embittered by this and subsequent disenfranchisement at the hands of the Protestant governing elite, Carroll the Settler amassed a fortune through shrewd business and advantageous marriage arrangements, becoming the richest man in Maryland, in spite of the political power that eluded him. The same sense of bitterness and injustice drove the Settler’s son, Charles Carroll of Annapolis, to further increase the family fortune and to provide an exceptional education for his own son, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

As the relationship between Great Britain and her North American colonies became more and more strained in the early 1770’s, events in Maryland would provide an opportunity for the Carroll’s to re-enter the political stage. The lower house of the Maryland legislature began an investigation of the amount of revenue earned by proprietary officials by virtue of the office held. The high earnings revealed by this probe led the lower house to propose a reduction in fees, which, of course was rejected by the upper house. The ensuing “fee controversy” pitted Daniel Dulany, the deputy secretary of Maryland (and one of the officials found garnering huge annual sums) against Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who took up the pen and the persona of “First Citizen” to publish a series of essays in the Maryland Gazette. In their debate, “First Citizen” and “Antilon” (Daniel Dulany’s pseudonym) battled over the nature of government, the rights of Man, and the role religious affiliation. In his first letter, which appeared on February 4, 1773, “First Citizen” wrote:

Government was instituted for the general good, but Officers intrusted with its powers, have most commonly perverted them to the selfish views of avarice an ambition; hence the Country and court interests, which ought to be the same have been too often opposite, as must be acknowledged and lamented by every true friend of Liberty….

Carroll of Carrollton would demonstrate himself to be a “true friend of Liberty” for nearly three decades. He served on the first Committee of Safety in Annapolis, and while Marylandwavered on the subject of pursuing independence, Carroll joined Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase in the effort to recruit Canada as a “fourteenth colony” in rebellion against England. As a Maryland delegate to the Second Continental Congress, Carroll served on the Board of War. He also helped to frame the Maryland constitution and would serve in the new state government as well as the Federal Congress as a U.S. Senator for Maryland. Charles Carroll of Carrollton would retire from office in 1800 after serving ten years as a Maryland State Senator. One of his last public acts would be the laying of the cornerstone to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on July 4 1828, where, at the age of 91, he was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. Charles Carroll would die four years later.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades K-4:

Topic 2: The History of Students’ Own State or Region
STANDARD 3: The people, events, problems and ideas that created the history of their state.

Standard 3E: The student understands the ideas that were significant in the development of the state and that helped to forge its unique identity.

3-4: Analyze how the ideas of significant people affected the history of their state.

Topic 3: The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic, and Political Heritage
STANDARD 4: How democratic values came to be, and how they have been exemplified by people, events, and symbols. 

Standard 4A: The student understands how the United States government was formed and the nation’s basic democratic principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. 

K-4: Explain that the U.S. government was formed by English colonists who fought for independence from England. [Explain causes and consequences]
3-4: Identify and explain the basic principles that Americans set forth in the documents that declared the nation’s independence from England (the Declaration of Independence) and that created the new nation’s government (U.S. Constitution). [Demonstrate and explain the influence of ideas]

Standard 4B: The student understands ordinary people who have exemplified values and principles of American democracy. 

K-4: Identify ordinary people who have believed in the fundamental democratic values such as justice, truth, equality, the rights of the individual, and responsibility for the common good, and explain their significance. [Assess the importance of the individual in history]

Primary Resources

  1. TITLE:  Charles Carroll of Carrollton
    ARTIST: Thomas Sully
    MEDIUM: Oil on canvas
    SOURCE:  Maryland Commission on Artistic Property, MSA SC 1545-1114
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives
  2. TITLE:  Declaration of Independence
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 4, 1776 (signed August 2, 1776)
    SOURCE: U.S.
    REPOSITORY:  National Archives
  3. TITLE:  Letter, Charles Carroll of Annapolis to Charles Carroll of Carrollton
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  June 26, 1774
    NOTE: Charles Carroll of Carrollton and his father, Carroll of Annapolis, discussed the activities of the First Continental Congress. Carroll of Carrollton accompanied the Maryland delegation to Philadelphia, but had not yet been selected as a member, and was thus, to this point, still relegated to the periphery of political action.
    SOURCE:  Charles Carroll of Carrollton Family Papers, MSA M 4193 Item No. 590
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  4. TITLE:  Letter, Charles Carroll of Carrollton to William Graves
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  August 15, 1774
    NOTES: Charles Carroll of Carrollton declares to William Graves that, although disappointed by his exclusion from the official activities of the Continental Congress, he will continue to serve the cause even “in a private capacity.”
    SOURCE:  Charles Carroll of Carrollton Family Papers, MSA M 4193 Item No. 591
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  5. TITLE:  Letter, Charles Carroll of Carrollton to Charles Carroll of Annapolis
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  August 20, 1776
    NOTES: Now an official delegate and recent signer of the Declaration of Independence, Carroll seems to realize the gravity and perilous nature of the task before the patriots in not only rebelling against the mother country, but also in creating a new democracy and avoid a bloody anarchy.
    SOURCE:  Charles Carroll of Carrollton Family Papers, MSA M 4194 Item No. 708
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  6. TITLE:  Letter, John Quincy Adams to Charles Carroll of Carrollton
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  June 24, 1824
    NOTES: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams present Charles Carroll of Carroll two “fac simile copies” of the Declaration of Independence, noting that “…this document, unparalleled in the annals of mankind, the original, deposited in this department, exhibits your name as one of the subscribers.”
    SOURCE:  Charles Carroll of Carrollton Family Papers, MSA M 4203 Item No. 2435
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  7. TITLE:  Signature on the Declaration of Independence
    SOURCE:  Charles Carroll Exhibit Graphics Collection, MSA SC 2292-1-139
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  8. TITLE:  Suggested Amendments to the Articles of Confederation
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  23 July 1787
    SOURCE: Sioussat Papers Collection, MSA SC 561-1-9
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  9. TITLE:  “First Citizen” by Charles Carroll of Carrollton
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  February 4, 1773 in the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis)
    SOURCE: Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2311-1-17
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  10. TITLE:  “Antilon” by Daniel Dulaney
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  April 8, 1773 in the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis)
    SOURCE: Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2311-1-17
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  11. TITLE:  “First Citizen” by Charles Carroll of Carrollton
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  May 6, 1773 in the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis)
    SOURCE: Maryland Gazette Collection, MSA SC 2311-1-17
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

Additional Media Resources

CARROLL, Charles (of Carrollton), 1737-1832 (Biographical Directory of the US Congress)

Charles Carroll of Carrollton ( Signers of the Declaration of Independence)

Charles Carroll of Carrollton (Catholic Encyclopedia) Additional Instructional

Charles Carroll of Carrollton (Colonial Hall)

Additional Instructional Resources

The First Citizen: Charles Carroll of Carrollton ~ Social Studies ~ School Improvement in Maryland

Secondary Resources

Crowl, Philip A., ed.  Charles Carroll’s Plan of Government, 1787 (Reprint from The American Historical Review, Vol. 46 No. 3, April 1941),, 1941.

Gurn, Joseph.  Charles Carroll of Carrollton, 1737-1832.  New York, NY:  P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1932.

Hanley, Thomas O’Brien.  Charles Carroll of Carrollton:  The Making of a Revolutionary Gentleman.,, 1982.

______.  “Charles Carroll as Catalyst.”  The Sun Magazine, 9 September 1973.

Hay, Robert P. “Charles Carroll and the Passing of the Revolutionary Generation” Maryland Historical Magazine 67(1): 54-62.

Hoffman, Ronald. Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga, 1500-1782. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Mayer, Brantz, ed.  Journal of Charles Carroll of Carrollton during his Visit to Canada in 1776 as One of the Commissioners from Congress.,, 1876.

Papenfuse, Edward C., et al., Charles Carroll of Carrollton,” in A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature 1635-1789, Vol. I, A-H (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979):  197-199.

Papenfuse, Edward C.  “Undelivered Defense of a Winning Cause: Charles Carroll of Carrollton’s ‘Remarks on the Proposed Federal Constitution.'” Maryland Historical Magazine, 71, no. 2. (1976).

Rowland, Kate Mason.  The Life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton 1737-1832 with his Correspondence and Public Papers. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1898.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Blvd.
Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 260-6400Maryland Historical Society
201 West Monument Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 685-3750

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Derrick Lapp. Updated by Nancy Bramucci Sheads, December 2012.