Every bride and groom hopes to strike gold and reach their 50th wedding anniversary. Every parent bringing home a baby from the hospital hopes their child reaches at least their 50th birthday and beyond. Every employee hopes their boss remembers their 50th anniversary of employment. Every florist hopes a husband buys fifty roses to honor the 50th birthday of his wife.
Even in the NFL, “50” is a landmark occasion. Super Bowl 50 is set to take place at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California at the home of the San Francisco 49ers. The Golden Super Bowl returns to the place where a carpenter named James Marshall discovered gold in northern California, and by 1849, tens of thousands of Forty-Niners were headed west to “strike gold.” As millions of Americans watch Super Bowl 50 this season for the NFL’s biggest stage, the big milestone comes with a change in how the game will be presented. This will be the first Super Bowl in four decades to not use Roman numerals. The game will be branded with the Arabic numeral 50 instead of the Roman numeral “L.” This will only be a one-time, one-year change to celebrate a landmark occasion.
Every American knows that the 4th of July is a landmark occasion every year—bigger than any Super Bowl or birthday or anniversary. It is an annual occasion which means for most working Americans a holiday from work. For us to celebrate freedom every Fourth of July, it required delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia voting to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
As with every bride and groom on their wedding day, the future is uncertain. As with every baby born to a father and a mother, the future is uncertain. As with every one of the 32 teams hoping to reach Super Bowl 50, the future is uncertain. And so it was in 1776 when 56 men signed their names to the Declaration of Independence: the future was uncertain. As we celebrate the 4th of July, it is tremendous to remember that 56 men wondered if their new experiment in ordered liberty would ever strike gold by reaching a 50th anniversary?
The first generation of Americans heard George Washington say, “it is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.” This precept inspired and encouraged a young nation to hope to one day reach America’s 50th anniversary in 1826.
The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence knew that, if the British won, their signatures were the equivalent of a death warrant. Without God and the Bible, these 56 men would have succumbed to fear. But with God and the Bible, these 56 men were not afraid for the confiscation of their estates or the loss of their lives. In England, King George ordered soldiers to find and execute these 56 men to put an end to what he called a “foolish” rebellion.
Posterity recorded that the experiment of these 56 men indeed worked, and democracy reached a milestone of epic proportions on the 4th of July in 1826 when the United States of America struck gold to reach the milestone of her 50th anniversary.
On the 4th of July in 1826, the United States had a population of 12 million citizens. The original 13 colonies grew to 24 by the Golden Anniversary of America, with two states west of the Mississippi River. Americans had elected the son of a President to move into the White House—John Quincy Adams from 1825 to 1829.
By sunrise on the Fourth of July of America’s 50th anniversary, only 3 of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence were still living:
- John Adams at the age of 90, who was living in Quincy, Massachusetts. John Adams was our second President and the Father of a President.
- Thomas Jefferson at the age of 83, who was living in Monticello, Virginia. Thomas Jefferson was our third President.
- Charles Carroll at the age of 89, who was living on Lombard Street in Baltimore, Maryland. Charles Carroll was the only Catholic among the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.
For the annual celebration of Fourth of July, Charles Carroll would sit on his porch of his red brick house as parades went by his home on Lombard Street in Baltimore. Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, even received a famous visitor to his home on Lombard Street: Alexis de Tocqueville, a French observer who came to America seeking to discover what made this historic experiment in democracy so great. Alexis de Tocqueville said of his visit, “Upon my arrival in the United States of America, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention.”
To celebrate the 50th anniversary, Charles Carroll wrote the following remarks, thanking God “for the blessings which, through Jesus Christ our Lord, He has conferred on my beloved country in her emancipation, and upon myself.” The President, John Quincy Adams, whose father was the signer John Adams, said to celebrate America’s Golden Anniversary, “You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it.”
Throughout Christendom, saints have taught that in the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences. And as Americans celebrated our 50th anniversary in 1826, we would be given an opportunity to discover the depths of this reality. Towns throughout America were grateful that 3 of the 56 signers survived to celebrate the 50th anniversary: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Charles Carroll. However, in one of the most tremendous aspects in all of American history, posterity recorded that two of these three men died on the actual 50th anniversary. Thomas Jefferson passed away by 1pm on the 50th anniversary; John Adams died before 6pm on the 50th anniversary. By sundown on the 50th anniversary, the only survivor of the 56 signers was the only Catholic who signed the Declaration of Independence: Charles Carroll. Following our nation’s Golden Anniversary, school children were asked for a six-year period between 1826 until 1832 to identify the only living man to sign the Declaration of Independence: Charles Carroll.
Charles Carroll lived to reach his 95th birthday. He and his wife Mary were given from God seven children. As a child, Charles Carroll had so many fevers that many wondered if he would survive childhood. He had a tremendous sense of humor; at the age of 89, Charles Carroll told a friend who was amazed at his energy: “What do you take me for? I have ridden 16 miles on horseback this morning, and am good for as much more this afternoon.” One of his habits was always leaving the table a little bit hungry—which may explain why he lived to be 95! Charles Carroll was a patriot who once wrote to George Washington to say that the struggle for independence was the best and most glorious cause of his life—a commitment which makes possible our Fourth of July celebrations in the twenty-first century.
From all Eternity, God knew that the only Catholic to be among the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence would also be its last survivor. A ceremony was held in Baltimore to honor John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. As the last survivor, Charles Carroll was in attendance. When Providence permitted him to honor his fellow signers, Adams and Jefferson, who were alive at sunrise on our 50th anniversary but who died by sundown, Charles Carroll struck gold with his remarks about his fellow patriots. Charles Carroll said of them both, “Their services should be remembered and their errors forgotten and forgiven.”
These 11 words of Charles Carroll are at the heart of Christian charity.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll are golden advice for married couples.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll are the key to the future of peace in our world.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll reflect the contributions of Catholicism to American culture.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll could be taught to school children.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll might guide our presidential politics.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll could help race relations in our cities.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll might help families around the dinner table.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll could bring harmony to a bitter work environment.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll might be the wisdom coaches teach their athletes.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll could help lead a sinner from despair to hope.
These 11 words of Charles Carroll might convince us of what Jesus says to His Father about us all.
The only Catholic who signed the Declaration of Independence offers us an example of virtue to imitate as we celebrate in 2015 our nation’s 239th anniversary. Charles Carroll, who signed the Declaration of Independence and celebrated its 50th anniversary, was raised up by God to be a part of the remnant promised by God in every generation. This remnant, when humble and simple and poor and obscure, can be used by Almighty God to pass on the torch of faith in every generation. Charles Carroll is proof of God’s plan at work in our world. As we celebrate Fourth of July, may we strike gold every year of our lives and one day hear Charles Carroll say of us in the Presence of God: “Their services should be remembered and their errors forgotten and forgiven.”
Editor’s note: The image of Charles Carroll above was painted by Michael Laty ca. 1846.