Founders and the Constitution

Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832)

Clock One 45-minute class period.

In this lesson, students will study the life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Students will learn about his role as a leader during the revolution, his championing of religious tolerance, and much more.

Founding Principles

Freedom of Religion image

Freedom of Religion

The freedom to exercise one's own religious beliefs without interference from the government is essential to the existence of a free society.


I do hereby recommend to the present and future generations the principles of that important document as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them. - Charles Carroll of Carrollton on the Declaration of Independence (1826)


Charles Carroll of Carrollton is primarily remembered today for his political leadership in Maryland during the Revolutionary era. A wealthy planter, Carroll became a major figure in the patriot movement in 1773 when he penned the First Citizen letters, attacking the governor’s unilateral imposition of a fee as an unjust tax upon the people. A member of the Continental Congress, Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence. He also helped to write Maryland’s Constitution of 1776. After American independence was achieved, he served in the United States Senate and the Maryland legislature.

Carroll’s role as a champion of religious liberty is less well known. Like many American Catholics at the time, he favored the separation of church and state and the free exercise of religion, at least for Christians. These principles were a logical consequence of the minority status of Catholics in Maryland and the nation. In nearly every American colony, Catholics suffered legal disabilities of some kind. Catholics in Maryland, for example, were denied the vote and the right to hold office. In his First Citizen letters, Carroll defended his right—and by extension, the right of his co-religionists—to participate in public affairs. He successfully fought to have religious liberty for all Christians, including Catholics, guaranteed by the Maryland Constitution of 1776.

In his later years, Carroll became famous among his countrymen as the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. By the time of his death in 1832, American independence was assured, but the battle for tolerance in the United States for Catholics and other religious minorities was unfinished.

Relevant Thematic Essays


In this lesson, students will learn about Charles Carroll. They should first read as background homework Handout A—Charles Carroll (1737–1832) and answer the Reading Comprehension Questions. After discussing the answers to these questions in class, the teacher should have the students answer the Critical Thinking Questions as a class. Next, the teacher should introduce the students to the primary source activity, Handout C—In His Own Words: Charles Carroll on Religious Liberty, in which Carroll defends his right as a Catholic to participate in public affairs. As a preface, there is Handout B— Vocabulary and Context Questions, which will help the students understand the document.

There are Follow-Up Homework Options that ask the students to consider whether a group’s religious beliefs can pose a threat to a free society. Extensions provides opportunity for thought as students are asked to research the extent of religious tolerance in the earliest state constitutions, the history of religious liberty in their own state, or the extent of religious freedom in another country.


Students will:

  • appreciate Carroll’s role as a leader of the American opposition to British tyranny
  • explain Carroll’s objections to the governor’s fee proclamation
  • understand the reasons for Carroll’s championing of religious tolerance
  • analyze what Carroll stood to gain and lose by supporting American independence


Student Handouts

  • Handout A—Charles Carroll (1737–1832)
  • Handout B—Vocabulary and Context Questions
  • Handout C—In His Own Words: Charles Carroll on Religious Liberty

Additional Teacher Resource

  • Answer Key


CCE (9–12): IIA1, IIC1, IIIA1, IIIA2
NCHS (5–12): Era III, Standards 3A, 3B
NCSS: Strands 2, 5, 6, and 10

Background Homework

Ask students to read Handout A—Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737–1832) and answer the Reading Comprehension Questions.

Warm-up 10 min.

  1. Review answers to homework questions.
  2. Conduct a whole-class discussion to answer the Critical Thinking Questions.
  3. Ask a student to summarize the historical significance of Charles Carroll.

    Charles Carroll was a wealthy Maryland planter and a leader of the Revolution. He became famous in the colony in 1773 when he wrote the First Citizen letters. In these essays, Carroll criticized as illegal a fee that the governor had imposed on the people. He also defended his right as a Catholic to participate in public life in Maryland. As a member of the Continental Congress in 1776, Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence, the only Catholic to do so. In that same year, he helped write a new constitution for Maryland, successfully including as part of that document a clause that guaranteed religious liberty for Christians. After the Revolutionary War, Carroll served in the Maryland legislature and United States Senate. He was the last signer of the Declaration to die.

Context 5 min.

  1. Be sure that the students understand that there was one united Christian Church (called “Catholic,” meaning “universal”) until the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. At that time, the Christian Church began to splinter. The term “Protestant” refers in a general way to all non-Catholic Christians (those who “protested” against the Church). The term “Catholic” refers to individuals who remained loyal to the Pope in Rome.
  2. Discrimination against Catholics was a long-standing policy in post-Reformation England. Prior to American independence in 1776, most colonies discriminated in some way against Catholics, usually by the denial of the right to vote and hold office. Many of the state constitutions written after independence guaranteed Christians full political rights, though some states, such as Massachusetts and North Carolina, continued to deny Catholics certain rights and privileges until well into the nineteenth century.

In His Own Words 25 min.

  1. Distribute Handout B—Vocabulary and Context Questions. Be sure that the students understand the vocabulary and the “who, what, where, and when” of the document.
  2. Explain to the class that in eighteenth-century America, newspapers were often read publicly to crowds on the street—much as people gather around televisions in stores today when a major news event occurs. Tell the students that they are about to listen to the excerpts from the Antilon-First Citizen letters read by members of the class.
  3. Choose two students who are good speakers. Distribute Handout C—In His Own Words: Charles Carroll on Religious Liberty to these students. Assign one of the students the task of representing Daniel Dulany (Antilon) and the other the role of Charles Carroll (the First Citizen). Allow these students a few minutes to review their assigned parts.
  4. As the speakers prepare, pair up the remaining students. Tell them that each pair will listen carefully to the dialogue between Dulany and Carroll and then compose a one-paragraph summary of the exchange.
  5. Have the two speakers stand in front of the class and read the dialogue.
  6. When the speakers are finished, have the pairs of students write their paragraphs. Then have the pairs exchange their paragraphs, so that each pair has the work of another group. Give the groups a minute or two to read the paragraphs they now have.
  7. Have the speakers read the dialogue again. Each pair should now check to see if the paragraph they are reading summarizes well the exchange between Carroll and Dulany.
  8. Ask the student-listeners to read the paragraph they have in front of them, if they believe it is a good summary of the dialogue.

Wrap-up Discussion 5 min.

Ask the students to consider how Marylanders of Carroll’s day might have reacted to his dialogue with Dulany.

Answers will vary.

Follow-Up Homework Options

Students could compose a short essay (three to five paragraphs) in which they consider the following questions:

  1. When, if ever, can a group’s religious beliefs pose a threat to a free society?
  2. Should limits be placed on the freedom to practice religion in order to protect society?


  1. Students could research the history of religious liberty in their state.
  2. Students could research the extent of religious liberty currently allowed in other countries.
  3. Using the links below, students could research the extent of religious tolerance found in the earliest state constitutions, most of which were written at the time of the American Revolution. (Note that the present-day constitutions of Massachusetts and Rhode Island date to 1776 and 1843, respectively, though both have been amended.)



Hanley, Thomas O’Brien. Charles Carroll of Carrollton: The Making of a Revolutionary Gentleman. Chicago:Loyola University Press, 1982.
Hanley, Thomas O’Brien. Revolutionary Statesman: Charles Carroll and the War. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1983.
Hoffman, Ronald. Dear Papa, Dear Charley: The Peregrinations of a Revolutionary Aristocrat, as Told by Charles Carroll of Carrollton and His Father, Charles Carroll of Annapolis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
Hoffman, Ronald. Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga, 1500–1782. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
Onuf, Peter S., ed. Maryland and the Empire, 1773: The Antilon-First Citizen Letters. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.


The Carroll House. National Park Service.
The Charles Carroll House of Annapolis. Historic Annapolis Foundation.
“Charles Carroll of Carrollton.” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.
“Charles Carroll of Carrollton, 1737–1832.” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
“Charles Carroll of Carrollton.” Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Selected Works

By Charles Carroll

  • First Citizen Letters (1773)
  • Address on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (1826)

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