Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1745-1825), American statesman, was a patriot leader and an emissary to France. He was twice the Federalist nominee for president.
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was born on Feb. 14, 1745, in Charleston, S.C. He was taken to England in 1753 and educated at Westminster School and Oxford. Destined for a legal career, he attended Middle Temple (1764-1769) and was admitted to practice. Despite his English residence, Pinckney regarded America as home, and he returned full of patriotic ardor. He served as attorney general for three South Carolina districts. His marriage to Sally Middleton strengthened his ties with the colony's leading families.
Following the rupture with England, Pinckney was active on his colony's Committee of Intelligence. He became a militia captain and was chairman of the committee that drafted South Carolina's 1776 constitution. In July 1777 he tried to join George Washington's northern command, but no battlefield opportunities came his way, and Pinckney soon returned to South Carolina. When the British finally attacked Charleston, his bad advice led to a disastrous American defeat in May 1780 during which Pinckney himself was captured.
After the war Pinckney veered toward a nationalistic course in his support of enlarged powers for the Continental Congress. He resumed his lucrative law practice, but his personal life was saddened in 1784 by his wife's death, which left him with three young daughters. Chosen as a delegate to the Federal Convention in 1787, Pinckney supported a stronger central government and was an adamant defender of slavery. He signed the Constitution and worked successfully for its ratification in his home state.
Pinckney turned down an offer to become secretary of war in 1794 and later also rejected the secretary of state post. However, in 1796 he was persuaded to become the American minister in Paris, taking on the job of appeasing the French government's anger over Jay's Treaty. Pinckney's mission of reconciliation was early discredited by scheming French diplomats, and he was expelled in 1797. Later, under the new president, John Adams, Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry were appointed special envoys to heal the Franco-American breach. The ensuing discussions, with demands for bribes and Pinckney's famous "No, no, not a sixpence" in reply, were a diplomatic fiasco exposed to the world in the "XYZ" correspondence.
Steadily, Pinckney's political stance became more Federalist; in 1800 he was advanced as the party's vice-presidential candidate. He was the Federalist candidate for president in 1804 and 1808. Three successive defeats in elections ended his national ambitions. Thereafter, he devoted his energies to South Carolina's affairs, particularly education and philanthropy. He died on Aug. 16, 1825. In his eulogy the "not a sixpence" remark became "Millions for defense, not a cent for tribute"—one of the great slogans of American history.
Further Reading on Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
The only complete biography of Pinckney is Marvin R. Zahniser, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney: Founding Father (1967). Pinckney's papers in the Library of Congress have not been published, but letters to him from Washington and Hamilton can be found in John C. Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington (39 vols., 1931-1944), and Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, Papers of Alexander Hamilton (15 vols., 1961-1969). The edited papers of John Adams, Rufus King, and other contemporaries should also be consulted.