July 4th: Date of Death for Three of Five Founding Father Presidents

Editor: I just noticed that the icon for this column has the Republic of California separated from the stars and stripes. Sorry about that. Until I replace it with another image, bear with it (pun intended).

Certainly a peculiar fact, but there it is. Not only did Thomas Jefferson and John Adams die on July 4, but they died the same year, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress. I shan’t spoil the festivity of the day were I to add that most of the delegates at the Congress did not sign the Declaration until August 2. Our fifth president, James Monroe, died a few years later in 1831. The day? You guessed it, July 4th.

I do not get very excited about Independence Day. Many of the Founding Fathers were, after all, Freemasons (as were the three on the July fourth necrology).  But I always loved July 4th. Barbecues and all that. Great fun and fireworks at night (not during the day, please). As children we headed out for Colgate Field, in West Orange, NJ, for the beginning of the day’s festivities. We were the high tide of the baby boom generation. Hundreds of us rascals would gather for races at the park at 9:00 a.m. The day before we were regaled by circus performers as they set up their tents and chained down and fed their elephants. What a sight! Yes, elephants, in a ball park in a small town in New Jersey! The men, meanwhile, were at it early in the horseshoe pits. Across the street was a small, a very small, confectionery store. Boy, did they do great business all day on the fourth of July. Soda, ice cream, candy, hot dogs, and burgers; they had it all. And, last but not least, came the fireworks. Of course I cannot do better with words than any baby boomer who remembers those displays. Words simply cannot do it justice. One had to BE THERE. In fact, one had to be a child. It was spectacular. At the height of the bursting rocket display, how well I remember, we would be spellbound as we gazed around upon thousands sitting at night in an outfield full of families and blankets enveloped in shades of red, white, and blue. Then, the finale, the grand finale, a host of fireworks shot up all together while a brilliant set of sizzling sizzlers spelled out God Bless America: Good Night!

So, back to 1776

Actually the Hanoverian King George III was a fairly good monarch for his day (1760-1820) The last of his Parliament’s so-called Intolerable Acts was the Tea Tax. George didn’t want to give that up because then it would seem that the rebels across the pond were totally in charge and not he and his parliament. No, it was not the tea tax that irked the Protestant colonials; it was, much more than that, the Parliament’s Quebec Act (1774), which gave religious freedom to Catholic Quebec. England had conquered all of Canada in 1763 after the Seven Years War against France. (Here, in America, it was a nine year conflict dubbed the French and Indian War.) How strange! In 1776, the Continental Congress sent a Father John Carroll (whom they called “Mr.” — the title “Father” for a priest was outlawed by then in Maryland, home of the Carrolls, and, too, his order, the Jesuits, were suppressed by Rome at the time) to be a liaison with the delegation comprised of his very wealthy brother, Charles (the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence), Ben Franklin, and Samuel Chase in order to try and get the French Canadians to join in the revolt against Britain. Bishop Briand of Quebec was astonished at the audacity of an anti-Catholic confederation expecting to get help from Canadian Catholics. The good bishop promptly forbade “Mr. Jack” (that’s what Franklin called Carroll) from celebrating Mass in Quebec and he excommunicated him. There was no Archbishopric in Baltimore yet [no United States yet] so Briand could act somewhat unilaterally.

*My friend and historian, C.J. Doyle, of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts just sent me an email with the following additional information on Father John Carroll:

“Carroll was specifically enjoined by Unitarian John Adams to grant absolution to Quebecois refused absolution by their priests for disobeying their bishop and helping the Americans. Adams’ instruction to Carroll is not a request made upon an ally. It is framed in an imperative sentence, which reads as the order of a superior to a subordinate, or of a master to a servant.” And, “Bishop Briand had no jurisdiction over the thirteen colonies. Prior to Carroll’s appointment as Superior of the American Missions and Prefect Apostolic, the Vicar-Apostolic of the London District, the distinguished Bishop Challoner, enjoyed episcopal jurisdiction in the United States.”

As I pointed out, the Catholics in Quebec fared well under George III, at least as well as could be expected under a Protestant monarch. Somewhat germane to the topic is that when George III was baptized as an Anglican, the fifth Lord Baltimore, Charles Calvert, stood as his proxy godfather in the stead of King Frederick of Sweden. This Lord Baltimore had been taken away from the Catholic Church by his renegade father who left the Catholic Church for political advantages with the Church of England. The third Baron Lord Baltimore, also a Charles, was disgusted with the betrayal of his son (and grandson) from the Faith. I do remember Brother Francis, who was monarchist at heart, saying that it would have been better for the thirteen colonies to have remained under the British monarchy. That is to say, at least when George III reigned. Who knows what our nation’s history would have been if that had happened? Not sure if I would agree with my teacher from Lebanon on that issue. I am, after all, Irish.