And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
George Washington, Farewell Address
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, as he signed his name when he added his signature to the Declaration of Independence, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. When he died at the age of 95, he was the last of the Signers to depart this vale of tears.
The scion of perhaps the richest family in the colonies, Charles Carroll was initially uninterested in politics and, in any case, was debarred by his religion from participating in politics in his native Maryland by his religion. However, in his thirties he became a passionate advocate of American independence from Great Britain and quickly became one of the chief leaders of the Patriot cause in his home colony. It was only natural as a result that he was sent to Congress, in spite of his religion, where he was one of the chief spokesmen for independence and happily placed his signature on the Declaration even though by doing so he risked not only his fortune but his life if the British had prevailed. By the end of 1776 the revolutionary government of Maryland had issued an act of religious freedom, and Carroll and his fellow Catholics in Maryland enjoyed the same civil rights as Protestants.
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In 1778 he returned to Maryland and helped draft the state constitution and in setting up the new state government, serving in the State Senate until 1800, and briefly in the United States Senate.
A slaveholder, throughout his career Carroll spoke and wrote of slavery as an evil that must come to an end as soon as possible. He attempted, but failed, to have Maryland implement a plan of gradual emancipation. At the age of 91 he took on the task of being president of the Auxiliary State Colonization Society of Maryland, part of a national movement to have free blacks voluntarily colonize what would become Liberia in Africa.
Something of a Renaissance man, he had a strong interest in science and in his nineties helped set up the B&O Railroad, lending his prestige to this new technology in his native Maryland.
Throughout his life his two main passions were the American Revolution and his Faith. Like most of the Founding Fathers he regarded the idea of political liberty divorced from sound morality, derived from religion, as an absurdity. He set forth his ideas on this subject in a letter to Secretary of War James McHenry in 1800 in which he lamented the then current American political scene:
These events will be hastened by the pretended philosophy of France; divine revelation has been scoffed at by the Philosophers of the present day, the immortality of the soul treated as the dreams of fools, or the invention of knaves, & death has been declared by public authority an eternal sleep; these opinions are gaining ground amongst us & silently saping the foundations of religion & encouragement of good, the terror of evildoers and the consolation of the poor, the miserable, and the distressed.
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Remove the hope & dread of future reward & punishment, the most powerful restraint on wicked action, & ye strongest inducement to virtuous ones is done away. Virtue, it may be said, is its own reward; I believe it to be so, and even in this life the only source of happiness, and this intimate & necessary connection between virtue & happiness here, & between vice & misery, is to my mind one of the surest pledge of happiness or misery in a future state of existence. But how few practice virtue merely for its own reward? Some of happy dispositon & temperament, calm reflecting men, exempt in a great degree from the turbulance of passions may be virtuous for vitrtue’s sake. Small however is the number who are guided by reason alone, & who can always subject their passions to its dictates.
He can thust act may be said to be virtuous, but reason is often inlisted on the side of the passions, or at best, when most wanted, is weakest. Hence the necessity of a superior motive for acting virtuously; Now, what motive can be stronger than ye belief, founded on revelation, that a virtuous life will be rewarded by a happy immortality? Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore, who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, & insures to the good eternal happiness are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free government.
Carroll didn’t think much of John Adams as President, but Adams had precisely the same views on this subject as he stated in an address on October 11, 1798 to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the militia of Massachusetts: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Most of the Founding Fathers left similar sentiments in their writings. Something to ponder as we celebrate the Fourth tomorrow. Here is the full text of the letter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton to James McHenry:
Annapolis, 4th Nov. 1800
I regret my absence from this city when Mr. Caldwell brought your letter of the 21st past, as it deprived me of shewing those attentions & that civility to which his character & his connection with you justly entitled him.
I hoped to have had the pleasure of a visit from you at the Manor. I wished much to see you to discourse on a variety of subjects & particularly on the present critical situation of this country. The President remarks that we are fallen upon evil times. I fear a great part of the evil may be attributed to his shifting conduct, his passions, his indescretion, vanity & jealousy. I had a high opinion of Mr. Adams, & still I believe him to be an honest man, but his integrity cannot compensate for his weaknesses, which unfit him for his present station. With a competition for places & power between the friends & opposers of the administration the only object of the contest, it would be a matter of indifference to me by what party the governt. should be administered.
If Mr. Adams should be reelected I fear our Constitution would be more injured by his unruly passions, anitpathies & jealousy, than by the whimsies of Jefferson. I am not acquainted with the characters of the leaders of the opposition but it is to be apprehanded [sic], that to obtain & retain power they might sacrifice the true interests & real independence of this country to France. Judge Duvall says that now well informed man can doubt of there being a british faction among us wishing to establish a monarchy in lieu of a republican govent. If he unites the north I own I am not one of the number of the well informed. I know of no such faction; if it exists & is endeavouring to effect such a change, its attempts should be crushed. If our country should continue to be the sport of parties, if the mass of the people should be exasperated & roused to pillage the more wealthy, social order will be subverted, anarchy will follow, succeeded by despotism; these changes have in that order of succession taken place in France.
Yet the men so far as I am informed, who stile themselves republicans, very generally wish success to France; in other words, the friends of freedom here are the friends of Bounaparte, who has established by a military force the most despotic government in Europe; how are we to reconcile this contradiciton of their avowed principles? Is their aversion to the English constitution the cause of this inconsistency? Do they consider the naval power of that nation as the strongest barrier to the revolutionary arts by which all the rulers of France, each in their turn, have endeavoured & are endeavouring to weaken & subvert all other governments, that France may establish an influence over all, & thus become too powerful?
They dare not avow the sentiments, yet their wishes & their conduct point to it. I wish the british to retain the empire of the seas, while the rulers of France are activated by such motives; the decided naval superiority of Britain is ye only effectual check to ye ambition of that republick; the true interests and independence of this country require that those rival nations should be balanced.
If the people of this coutnry were united it would have nothing to fear from foreign powers; but unhappily this is not the case. Many of the opposers of the present administration, I suspect want a change of the federal constitution; if that should be altered or weakened so as to be rendered a dead letter, it will not answer the purposes of its formation and will expire from mere inanity: other confederacies will start up & ye scene of ye Grecian states after an interval of more than two thousand years will be renewed on this contintent, & some Philip or Bounaparte will met the whole of them into one mass of despotism.
These events will be hastened by the pretended philosophy of France; divine revelation has been scoffed at by the Philosophers of the present day, the immortality of the soul treated as the dreams of fools, or the invention of knaves, & death has been declared by public authority an eternal sleep; these opinions are gaining ground amongst us & silently saping the foundations of religion & encouragement of good, the terror of evildoers and the consolation of the poor, the miserable, and the distressed. Remove the hope & dread of future reward & punishment, the most powerful restraint on wicked action, & ye strongest inducement to virtuous ones is done away.
Virtue, it may be said, is its own reward; I believe it to be so, and even in this life the only source of happiness, and this intimate & necessary connection between virtue & happiness here, & between vice & misery, is to my mind one of the surest pledge of happiness or misery in a future state of existence. But how few practice virtue merely for its own reward? Some of happy dispositon & temperament, calm reflecting men, exempt in a great degree from the turbulance of passions may be virtuous for vitrtue’s sake. Small however is the number who are guided by reason alone, & who can always subject their passions to its dictates.
He can thus act may be said to be virtuous, but reason is often inlisted on the side of the passions, or at best, when most wanted, is weakest. Hence the necessity of a superior motive for acting virtuously; Now, what motive can be stronger than ye belief, founded on revelation, that a virtuous life will be rewarded by a happy immortality? Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore, who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, & insures to the good eternal happiness are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free government.
If there be force in this reasoning what judgement ought we to form of our pretended republicans, who admire & applaud the proceedings of the revolutionary France!
These disclaimers in favor of freedom and equality act in such a questionable shape that I cannot help suspecting their sincerity.
This is a long & preaching letter and I fear a tedious & dull one, but you wished to know my sentiments about the present parties & impending fate of our country, and I could not give them without developing the reasons for my opinion. You see that I almost despair of the Commonwealth. The end of every legitimate government is the security of life, liberty and property: if this country is to be revolutionised none of these will be secure. Perhaps the leaders of the opposition, when they get into office, may be content to let the Constitution remain as it is, & may pursue the policy & measures of Washington’s administration, but what will become in that case of their consistency? Patriots you will say are not always consistent; granted, yet other patriots and opposers will arise to arraign this inconsistency, & the storm once raised, who will stop its fury?
Celui que met un pein a la fureur des flots
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My only hope is in that being who educes good out of evil. May he in his abundant mercy incline the hearts of our countrymen to peace, justice and concord.
I have read Mr. Hamilton’s pamphlet; the drift of its publication at this time I conjecture was not so much with a view of vindicating his character as to prevent the electors in Massachusetts from scattering their votes in order to secure the election of Mr. Adams in preference to Mr. Pinckney. All with whom I have conversed, blame however Mr. Hamilton and consider his publication as ill timed, altho I pay a deference to the opinions of others, whose motives I know to be good, yet I cannot help differing from them in this instance. The assertions of the pamphlet I take it for granted are true, and if true, surely it must be admitted that Mr. Adams is not fit to be president, and his unfitness should be made known to the electors, and ye public. I conceive it a species of treason to conceal from the publick his incapacity . . .
Although your remaining rather a spectator of than an actor in the passing scenes is founded on a proper motive, yet you will find it impossible to retain an neutral character, nor do I think it fit you should. We ought all, each in our several spheres, to endeavour to set the publick mind right, & to administer antodotes to the poison that is widely spreading throughout the country.
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