This is a letter from George Washington, the first president of the United States, to the Catholic citizens thereof. Several others are available to read through this same website, but this particular communique is unique in that it is a response to the gratitude of the people. Archbishop John Carroll – the first Catholic archbishop in the United States, a relation of both Charles Carroll of Carrollton and Daniel Carroll – wrote the letter on behalf of all Catholics in the country.
Now Charles Carroll is interesting because he signed the Declaration of Independence, and when he did, he included his place of residence (Carrollton). This meant the British knew exactly where he lived and could arrest him (or worse) if they reached Carrollton or the Americans lost the war. There is a legend, perhaps true but perhaps not, that Carroll added “of Carrollton” after his name when someone commented that it was so common no one would know him from a dozen other Carrolls in the colonies. Whether this legend is true or not, he remains the only signer of the Declaration whose place of residence is listed on the same document.
Daniel Carroll, Archbishop John Carroll’s younger brother, is a forgotten Founding Father who signed not only the Articles of Confederation but the Constitution. He and Charles both held political offices after the war, something they could not do beforehand, as Catholics were still out of favor with the English crown and thus could neither run for nor hold public office in the colonies. The fact that the young United States of America was willing to grant them this ability along with the freedom to practice their faith is one reason why many Catholics joined the American side of the War for Independence.
You can learn more about the Carrolls here, readers, and I definitely suggest looking into this aspect of American history more closely. History classes leave a lot out these days, and the history of faith in the War for Independence is rich but rarely taught. This influence of religion on the founding of the country is not something we think about today and that is a shame, because it had a great deal to do with what the Founders chose to do and how they designed the unique system of government which has been a source of American pride for so long.
Click the links to learn more, readers! God bless!
From George Washington to Roman Catholics in America, c.15 March 1790
To Roman Catholics in America
United States of America [New York]
Gentlemen,[c.15 March 1790]
While I now receive with much satisfaction your congratulations on my being called, by an unanimous vote, to the first station in my Country; I cannot but duly notice your politeness in offering an apology for the unavoidable delay. As that delay has given you an opportunity of realizing, instead of anticipating, the benefits of the general Government; you will do me the justice to believe, that your testimony of the increase of the public prosperity, enhances the pleasure which I should otherwise have experienced from your affectionate address.
2 thoughts on “An Obscure Letter”
Glad to read that, but…
Don’t want to start it up again, but don’t blame the Crown for the position of Catholics in the colonies: the legality or otherwise of the faith was largely up to the local legislatures, which is why it was only legal in three colonies (Pennsylvania, New York, and maybe Maryland if you count ‘able to worship in their own homes’, or I might be forgetting the last one). Indeed, one of the Continental Congress’s accusations against the King was that he was too friendly to Catholics.
e.g. “that by their numbers daily swelling with Catholick emigrants from Europe, and by their devotion to an Administration, so friendly to their religion, they might become formidable to us, and, on occasion, be fit instruments in the hands of power, to reduce the ancient, free, Protestant Colonies to the same state of slavery with themselves.”
That this altered after the war (in some places: Catholics were still barred from holding office in many states) is, as far as I can tell, largely thanks to Washington’s influence.
I found it notable how often Washington gave credit to Providence for the string of improbable successes that led to the independence and establishment of the United States, in both his public speeches and private letters.
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