Historians rightly point to the American Revolution as a watershed for the expansion of religious liberty, especially for Catholics. On its face, the policy the Continental Congress adopted toward the Province of Quebec at the beginning of the War of Independence is an unlikely defining moment in that story. However, as Congress attempted to bring Catholic Canadians into the Patriot cause through diplomacy and invasion, they abandoned anti-Catholic rhetoric and offered the province’s Catholics increasingly firm guarantees of religious liberty. In that effort, in early 1776 the Second Continental Congress invited Charles and John Carroll—cousins from a wealthy Catholic family from Maryland—to join a Commission to Canada meant to rally its faltering campaign. It was a landmark precedent for Catholic participation in emerging American institutions and an opportunity that American Catholics had long sought. Although the mission ended in failure, the esteem the Carrolls earned among the Patriot elite helped to foster expanded religious liberty and political rights for Catholics in the young American Republic.


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