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Charles Carroll was a Maryland delegate to the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
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Born into a wealthy family, Charles Carroll became a member of the Continental Congress as the American Revolution loomed. Carroll missed the vote on independence but signed the final draft of the Declaration on Independence, becoming the only Catholic to do so. He was a member of the Maryland state Senate and the U.S. Senate (concurrently), finally retiring to private life in 1800. Before his death in 1832, he was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Charles Carroll was born in September 1737 into a prominent Annapolis, Maryland, family. He was educated at Jesuit colleges in Maryland and France before going on to study law in Paris and London. In 1765 he returned to Maryland an educated man to take the reins of the family estate (which was one of the largest in the American colonies). He also added "of Carrollton" to his name (he appears as "Charles Carroll of Carrollton" in certain sources) to distinguish himself from his father and cousins, all of whom had similar names.
Because he was a Catholic, Carroll was not allowed to participate in politics, practice law (despite years of study) or vote, but he became known in important circles in a roundabout way by writing various anti-tax/tariff tracts (essentially, early protestations against "taxation without representation") in the Maryland Gazette under the pseudonym "First Citizen."
With the Revolution gearing up, in 1774 Carroll found himself approached by Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase to help gain the support of the Canadian government for their cause. Carried out by all three men, the eventual mission was not a success, but two years later Carroll was appointed to the Continental Congress, where he was an influential member of the Board of War and an early advocate for armed resistance and the ultimate severing of governmental ties with England. (He was nominated again in 1780 but decided not to accept the post.)
Although Carroll was not present to vote on the issue of independence, he was present for the signing of the final Declaration of Independence. Soon after, he resigned from the Continental Congress to serve in the Maryland State Assembly, where he was part of the group that drafted Maryland's constitution.
In 1777, Carroll became a Maryland state senator, serving until 1800. In 1789 he was elected U.S. senator, and he served as both a state and U.S. senator until 1793. In 1800 he retired from politics to concentrate on business matters: managing his vast real estate holdings, expanding his interests in the westward canal system and later helping to establish the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company.
Charles Carroll, the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, was also the last surviving signer, dying in Baltimore in 1832 at the age of 95.
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They are American icons—they're on our dollars and coins, they are the subject of our monuments, and we live our daily lives in the world their ideas helped create. America's Founding Fathers include George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and, of course, Benjamin Franklin. These men, together with several other key players of their time, structured the American democracy and left a legacy that has shaped the world. But beyond their legends, these men were human beings who led complex and fascinating lives. Learning their stories helps us better understand what made them tick, as well as their influence on our world today.
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