Charles Pinckney

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Pinckney, Charles

PINCKNEY, CHARLES. (1757–1824). Militia officer, governor of South Carolina, statesman, diplomat. South Carolina. Born on 26 October 1757 in Charleston, South Carolina, Pinckney studied law with his father just before the Revolution. Elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1779, he was a militia lieutenant at Savannah, Georgia, in October 1779 and became a prisoner of war when Charleston surrendered on 12 May 1780. Refusing to follow his father's example of pledging allegiance to the British Crown, Pinckney remained a prisoner until June 1781. He served in Congress from 1 November 1784 until 21 February 1787. Pinckney attended the Constitutional Convention of 1788, where he made numerous proposals that became part of the finished document and successfully insisted that the Constitution defend slavery.

After working hard to achieve ratification of the Constitution in South Carolina, he was governor of that state from January 1789 to December 1792. His alienation from the Federalists may have started when his cousin, Thomas Pinckney, was given the post of minister to Great Britain—a position that he wanted for himself. He denounced John Jay's treaty in 1795, defeated his brother-in-law, Henry Laurens, Jr., to win a third term as governor in 1796, and in 1798 was elected to the U.S. Senate with the same back-country Republican support that enabled him to beat Laurens. He led Republican senators against the administration, and later managed Thomas Jefferson's presidential campaign in South Carolina, which led to his estrangement from his strongly Federalist cousins, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Thomas Pinckney. His effective support of Jefferson, who became president in 1801, won him an appointment that year as minister to Spain.

Returning to Charleston in January 1806, Pickney served a fourth terms as governor. Elected to Congress in 1814, Pinckney fought for Missouri's admission as a slave state in 1820, insisting that Congress could never touch that institution. At the end of this term, Pinckney retired to Charleston, South Carolina, where he died on 29 October 1824.

SEE ALSO Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth; Pinckney, Thomas.


Matthews, Marty D. Forgotten Founder: The Life and Times of Charles Pinckney. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.

Pinckney Family Papers. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress.

                                revised by Michael Bellesiles

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Charles Pinckney

Charles Pinckney (1757-1824), American politician and diplomat, was a leading figure in South Carolina politics during the early years of the republic.

Charles Pinckney was born on Oct. 26, 1757, into a wealthy South Carolina family. Little is known of his early life except that he served in the militia during the Revolution and was captured at the fall of Charleston in 1780. After his release Pinckney took up the practice of law and won a seat in the South Carolina Legislature.

As a defender of Southern interests, Pinckney served in the Continental Congress from 1784 to 1787. His brilliant attack on a proposed treaty with Spain that would have surrendered American navigation rights on the Mississippi convinced Congress to pigeonhole the scheme. He was the youngest delegate to the Federal Constitutional Convention, where he made important contributions to the committee deliberations that became part of the ratified Constitution. After the convention he published a pamphlet purportedly describing his personal contributions, and in 1819 he made statements which aroused a controversy settled only by scholarly analysis almost a century later. It was clear that Pinckney had considerably overstated his case yet deserved credit for his perspicacious outline of the national government.

In 1788 Pinckney married Mary E. Laurens, and they had three children before her death in 1794. Pinckney plunged into local politics and served at both the 1788 and 1790 state constitutional conventions. He was thrice chosen governor (in 1789, 1791, and 1796) and on Dec. 6, 1798, was in the unique position of being an outgoing governor, congressman-elect, and senator-designate. Pinckney deserted the Federalist party to follow Thomas Jefferson and was instrumental in carrying South Carolina for Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election. Jefferson returned the favor by appointing Pinckney minister to Spain. In the Spanish mission Pinckney hoped to settle numerous boundary and commercial disputes that kept relations between the two powers strained. The Louisiana Purchase changed the nature of Pinckney's problem, and he left Spain in 1805 with little accomplished.

Pinckney returned to the South Carolina Legislature and was elected governor a fourth time in 1806. After one term, where he pushed for election reforms that favored the growing backcountry populace (such as universal suffrage for white males), Pinckney served two terms in the state legislature. In 1818 he was elected to the U.S. Congress. After serving one term, he returned to Charleston, practiced law, and dabbled in farming until his death on Oct. 29, 1824.

Further Reading

The only separate study of Pinckney is Andrew Jackson Bethea, The Contribution of Charles Pinckney to the Formation of the American Union (1937). Pinckney's later career is recounted in David Duncan Wallace, The History of South Carolina (4 vols., 1934; 1 vol., abr., 1951). □

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Charles Pinckney, 1757–1824, American statesman, governor of South Carolina (1789–92, 1796–98, 1806–8), b. Charleston, S.C.; cousin of Charles C. Pinckney and Thomas Pinckney. He fought in the American Revolution and was taken prisoner in the British capture of Charleston (1780). A delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, he submitted a plan for the Constitution. Although its exact provisions are not known, his plan had considerable influence on the final draft of the Constitution. In 1798 he became a U.S. Senator, and his services in forwarding Thomas Jefferson's presidential candidacy were rewarded by his appointment (1801) as minister to Spain. His principal assignment was to secure, with James Monroe's help, the cession of Florida to the United States. The attempt failed, and Pinckney returned home in 1805. From 1819 to 1821 he was a member of the House of Representatives, where he made a celebrated speech against the Missouri Compromise.

See G. C. Rogers, Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys (1969).

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Pinckney, Charles (1757–1824) US politician. He was the youngest member of the Continental Congress (1784–87) and played a major role at the Constitutional Convention (1785–87). As minister to Spain (1801–05), he secured Spanish acceptance of the Louisiana Purchase. He served as South Carolina's governor and led Congressional opposition to the Missouri Compromise.