Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Constitution Day and the Two Catholic Signers of the Constitution

Today is Constitution Day in the U.S.A., a day we unfortunately do not celebrate with fireworks and bands as we do our Independence Day. While it is true that Independence Day is well worth celebrating because it signifies our nation's founding as an independent country, Constitution Day is even more worthy of celebration because it demonstrates what we did when establishing our nation, limiting the power of government and protecting the rights of individuals. Of course, our country had to develop the definition of who had those rights as citizens, but the Constitution is a magnificent document of rights and restraints.

Here is a link to the official website for Constitution Day, which includes profiles of Daniel Carroll and Thomas Fitzsimmons, the two Catholic signers of the Constitution. Carroll was the cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrolltown and brother of John Carroll, Jesuit priest (until the Society of Jesus was suppressed by the pope) and first Catholic bishop in the U.S.A.

Daniel Carroll (July 22, 1730 – July 5, 1796) was a politician and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was a prominent member of one of America's great colonial families that included his cousin Charles Carroll of Carrollton who signed the Declaration of Independence, and his brother John Carroll who was the first Catholic bishop in the United States. He was one of only five men to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States.

Carroll was a patrician planter who fused family honor with the cause of American independence, willingly risking his social and economic position in the community for the Patriot cause. Later, as a friend and staunch ally of George Washington, he worked for a strong central government which could secure the achievements and fulfill the hopes of the Revolution. Ironically, for one whose name was synonymous with the colonial aristocracy, Carroll fought in the Convention for a government responsible directly to the people of the country. . . .

He wanted governmental power vested in the people, and he joined James Wilson in campaigning for popular sovereignty. When it was suggested that the President should be elected by the Congress, it was Carroll, seconded by James Wilson, who moved that the words "by the legislature" be replaced with "by the people". His signature on the Constitution made him one of two Roman Catholics to sign the document, a further symbol of the advance of religious freedom in America during the Revolutionary period.

Carroll did not arrive at the Constitutional Convention until July 9, but thereafter he attended quite regularly. He spoke about 20 times during the debates and served on the Committee on Postponed Matters. Returning to Maryland after the convention, he campaigned for ratification of the Constitution but was not a delegate to the state convention.

Thomas Fitzsimmons was also born in Ireland:

Thomas Fitzsimons (1741–1811) was an American merchant and statesman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He represented Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the U.S. Congress. Fitzsimons was born in Ireland around 1741. By 1760 he had immigrated to Philadelphia, and began work as a clerk in a mercantile house. He married Catherine Meade on November 23, 1761 and formed a business partnership with her brother George. Their firm specialized in the West Indies trade, and would operate successfully for over 41 years.

As the Revolution neared, he supported the Whig position. Early in the Revolutionary War he served as captain of a company of home guards, but the only report of their actions was to support the regular troops for the Battle of Trenton in 1776. Later in the war he provided supplies, ships, and money in support of Pennsylvania’s forces.

Fitzsimons entered active politics as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783. He was a member of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives in 1786 and 1787. He was also a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787. Although not a leading member of that convention, he did support a strong national government, opposed slavery, and favored giving the Congress powers to tax import and exports, as well as granting the house and the senate equal power in making treaties. He was one of only two Catholic signers of the United States Constitution.

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