Aristocrat. Catholic. Patriot. Founder.
Before his death in 1832, Charles Carroll of Carrollton—the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence—was widely regarded as one of the most important Founders. Today, Carroll’s signal contributions to the American Founding are overlooked, but the fascinating new biography American Cicero rescues Carroll from unjust neglect.
Drawing on his considerable study of Carroll’s published and unpublished writings, historian Bradley J. Birzer masterfully captures a man of supreme intellect, imagination, integrity, and accomplishment. Born a bastard, Carroll nonetheless became the best educated (and wealthiest) Founder. The Marylander’s insight, Birzer shows, allowed him to recognize the necessity of independence from Great Britain well before most other Founders. Indeed, Carroll’s analysis of the situation in the colonies in the run-up to the Revolution was original and brilliant—yet almost all historians have ignored it. Reflecting his classical and liberal education, the man who would be called “The Last of the Romans” advocated a proper understanding of the American Revolution as deeply rooted in the Western tradition. Carroll even left his mark on the U.S. Constitution despite not assuming his elected position to the Constitutional Convention: by inspiring the creation of the U.S. Senate.
American Cicero ably demonstrates how Carroll’s Catholicism was integral to his thought. Oppressed because of his faith—Maryland was the most anti-Catholic of the original thirteen colonies—Carroll became the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence and helped legitimize Catholicism in the young American republic.
What’s more, Birzer brilliantly reassesses the most controversial aspects of Charles Carroll: his aristocratic position and his critiques of democracy. As Birzer shows, Carroll’s fears of extreme democracy had ancient and noble roots, and his arguments about the dangers of democracy influenced Alexis de Tocqueville’s magisterial work Democracy in America.
American Cicero reveals why Founders such as John Adams assumed that Charles Carroll would one day be considered among the greats—and also why history has largely forgotten him.
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“An excellent short biography.” —Weekly Standard
“Birzer rightly presents Carroll as the proper object of deep interest and admiration.” —First Things
“Birzer is one of today’s finest biographers. With meticulous scholarship, he places Charles Carroll back on the pedestal from which previous generations of neglectful historians had unceremoniously removed him.” —Joseph Pearce, author of Tolkien: Man and Myth
“A sympathetic and engaging account of the man now best known as the only Catholic and the longest-lived among the signers of the Declaration of Independence . . . Clear, graceful prose . . . Learned, lively.” —Catholic Historical Review
“Birzer helps resurrect Carroll’s historical contributions . . . [and offers] an appreciation of Carroll as an influential thinker who helped establish American independence and legitimize Roman Catholicism in the United States.” —Columbia
“Excellent. Birzer rescues Charles Carroll—one of the great figures in America’s Founding—from an unjustified obscurity. A compelling portrait of a man Americans need to know and remember.” —James R. Otteson, professor of philosophy and economics, Yeshiva University
“Brilliant . . . Meticulously researched and engagingly written, American Cicero provides a fine-grained portrait of the critical decades that birthed the American Republic—and recovers the powerful role that Christian faith played in creating our political freedom.” —Bruce S. Thornton, author of Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization
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