Daniel Carroll was born on 22 July 1730 in Upper Marlboro, Prince Georges County, Maryland, the oldest son of Daniel Carroll, a native of Ireland, and Eleanor Darnall Carroll, of English descent. He spent his early years at his family’s home, a large estate of thousands of acres which his mother had inherited. (Several acres are now associated with the house museum known as Darnall’s Chance, listed on the National Register of Historic Places).
Daniel was sent abroad for his education. Between 1742 and 1748 he studied under the Jesuits at the College of St. Omer in Flanders, established for the education of English Catholics after the Protestant Reformation. Then, after a tour of Europe, he sailed home and soon married Eleanor Carroll, a first cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton.
Carroll gradually joined the Patriot cause. A planter, slaveholder and large landholder, he was concerned lest the Revolution fail economically and bring about not only his family’s financial ruin, but mob rule as well.
Carroll, supported the cause of American independence, risking his social and economic position for the Patriot cause. As a friend and staunch ally of George Washington, he worked for a strong central government that could secure the achievements and fulfill the hopes of the Revolution. Carroll fought in the Convention for a government responsible directly to the people of the country.
At the time, colonial laws excluded Catholics from holding public office. Once these laws were nullified by the Maryland constitution of 1776, Carroll was elected to the Senate of the Maryland legislature (1777-81). At the end of his term, Carroll was elected to the Continental Congress (1781-84). In 1781, he signed the Articles of Confederation. His involvement in the Revolution, like that of other Patriots in his extended family, was inspired by the family’s motto: “Strong in Faith and War”.
Carroll was an active member of the Constitutional Convention. Like his good friend James Madison, Carroll was convinced that a strong central government was needed to regulate commerce among the states and with other nations. He also spoke out repeatedly in opposition to the payment of members of the United States Congress by the states, reasoning that such compensation would sabotage the strength of the new government because “…the dependence of both Houses on the state Legislatures would be complete…. The new government in this form is nothing more than a second edition of [the Continental] Congress in two volumes, instead of one, and perhaps with very few amendments.”
At the Constitutional Convention, Daniel Carroll played an essential role in formulating the limitation of the powers of the federal government. He was the author of the presumption – enshrined in the Constitution – that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government were reserved to the states or to the people. Carroll spoke about 20 times during the debates at the Constitutional Convention 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.
When it was suggested that the President should be elected by the Congress, Carroll, seconded by Wilson, moved that the words “by the legislature” be replaced with “by the people”. He and Thomas Fitzsimons were the only Roman Catholics to sign the Constitution, a symbol of the advance of religious freedom in America during the Revolutionary period.
Following the Convention, Carroll continued to be involved in state and national affairs. He was a key participant in the Maryland ratification struggle. He defended the Constitution in the pages of the Maryland Journal, most notably in his response to the arguments advanced by the well-known Anti-federalist Samuel Chase. After ratification was achieved in Maryland, Carroll was elected as a representative from the sixth district of Maryland to the First Congress. Given his concern for economic and fiscal stability, he voted for the assumption of state debts by the federal government.
One of three commissioners appointed to survey the District of Columbia, Carroll owned one of the four farms taken for it; Notley Young, David Burns, and Samuel Davidson were the other landowners. The capitol was built on the land which Carroll transferred to the government. On 15 April 1791, Carroll and David Stuart, as the official commissioners of Congress, laid the cornerstone of the District of Columbia at Jones Point near Alexandria, Virginia.
He later was elected to the Maryland Senate. He was appointed a commissioner (co-mayor) of the new capital city, but advanced age and failing health forced him to retire in 1795. Interest in his region kept him active. He became one of George Washington’s partners in the Patowmack Company, a business enterprise intended to link the East with the expanding West by means of a Potomac River canal.
Carroll was one of only five men to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States.
Daniel Carroll died on 5 July 1796, at the age of 65 at his home near Rock Creek in the present village of Forest Glen, Md. He was buried there in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery.