Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 22: Daniel Carroll – Established the District of Columbia

He was a prominent member of one of America’s great colonial families – a family that included his younger brother - the first Catholic bishop in the United States – as well as a cousin who signed the the Declaration of Independence. The family also included a variety of barristers, merchants, planters, and political leaders. The guiding light of his extended family was their ancient family motto: “Strong in Faith and War”.

Daniel Carroll was born in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, on July 22, 1730 at his family home – Darnall’s Chance. His parents Daniel and Eleanor Darnall Carroll were wealthy planters who owned 27 000 acres of land in the colony of Maryland.

Carroll’s early education would be both at home, and through the Jesuit school at Bohemia Manor, Maryland. As was typical of wealthy planters in colonial America, he went overseas for his advanced education, studying under the Jesuits at the College of St. Omer in Flanders, from 1742 – 1748.

After his education ended, Carroll – again in the tradition of wealthy colonial families – toured Europe. After returning home, he married Eleanor Carroll, first cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton – who in turn was a cousin of Daniel Carroll. From 1750 until 1776, Carroll lived the life of a gentleman planter, remaining out of the public eye.

However, just because he was out of the public eye did not mean that Carroll was immune from the thoughts of rebellion and independence from England that increased in America after 1763. He was a large landholder, and was concerned over economic repercussions, the threat of mob rule, and the type of government that might be installed. However, as the clock ticked inexplicable toward revolution, Carroll found himself siding with the Patriots – albet reluctantly at first.

However, he could not politically act on his thoughts, as the laws of Maryland forbid Catholics from holding political office. After that law was nullified by the Maryland Consitution in 1776, Carroll felt the pull of his family’s heritage and public duty. He was elected to the upper house of the Maryland legislature, serving there from 1777 – 1781, and then in 1781 he was elected to the Continental Congress. As he travelled to Philadelphia to join the Congress he carried with him Maryland’s consent to sign the Articles of Confederation. That same year he would sign that document. Carroll would serve in the Congress from 1781 – 1784.

As he saw the problems arising from the confederation of states formed by the Articles of Confederation, Carroll became convinced that a stronger central government was needed. He spoke out on several weaknesses of the Articles, and would be a member of the Constitutional Convention. At the convention he would join James Madison in stating the need for the central government to regulate interstate and international commerce; as well as the need for the central government to pay members of Congress, not the states. When some members of the Convention suggested that the President should be elected by Congress, Carroll moved that the words “by the legislature” be replaced with “by the people”.

While Carroll arrived late to the Convention due to illness – arriving on July 9, 1787 - he would attend the remaining sessions regularly. He spoke about twenty times during the various debates that took place, and served on the Committee on Postponed matters.

Carroll would be one of two Catholics to sign the Constitution – showing the advances that religious freedom was making in America during this revolutionary era. He would also be one of five men to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution.

After the Convention ended, Carroll returned to Maryland to actively campaign for ratification of the document. While he was not a delegate to the state convention that accepted the new constitution, Carroll’s voice had been heard.

In 1789 Carroll was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During his term he voted for locating the national capitol on the banks of the Potomac River, as well as for Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s program for the national government’s assumption of state debts from the Revolution.

In 1791, President Washington named Carroll as one of the three commissioners who were to survey and define the borders of the District of Columbia. Four farms would be deeded to the national government to make up the District of Columbia, and part of Carroll’s farm would become the land that the Capitol was built on. Carroll would also serve on the first Board of Commissioners for the District of Columbia.

Ill health would force Carroll to resign this post in 1795, and the next year he would pass away at his home. He was buried at St. John’s Catholic Cemetery, Rock Creek (now Forest Glen), Maryland.


There are no biographies of Daniel Carroll at our local library.


Jamison’s of South Carolina
Catholic Encyclopedia
Laughter Genealogy
National Archives
National Park Service
Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution


01. Portrait of Daniel Carroll. Drawing: Oil (ca. 1758) by John Wollaston, Maryland Historical Society, copyright by John Hopkins University
02. Portrait of Eleanor Carroll and Daniel III, by John Wollaston, Maryland Historical Society, copyright by John Hopkins University
03. A map showing tracts of land deeded for the District of Columbia, United States Capitol Historic Society

1 comment:

  1. I learn something new every time I read one of your posts. Thanks.