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 on Charles Pinckney

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).