William Pinkney Facts

U.S. senator and statesman William Pinkney (1764-1822) was notable for his support of the Missouri Compromise, a piece of legislation designed to restrict the advance of slavery that was passed by Congress in 1820.

William Pinkney began his career as an attorney but quickly entered the realm of politics as a congressman in his home state of Maryland. His talent for public speaking attracted the attention of presidents from Washington to Madison, gaining Pinkney promotion to U.S. diplomat and his ultimate election as a U.S. senator. Among his most noteworthy accomplishments in the political arena was his skill in negotiating the Missouri Compromise of 1819, although this was eclipsed in the mind of legal scholars by his defense of such landmark cases as McCulloch vs. Maryland. He appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court over seventy times before his death in 1822 and was the acknowledged leader of the U.S. bar throughout his career.

The Son of British Sympathizers

Pinkney was born in Annapolis, Maryland, on March 17, 1764. His father, born in England and still loyal to the English crown, incurred the wrath of many of his colonial neighbors after the colonies declared independence in 1776. During the Revolutionary War he, like many other loyalists, had his lands confiscated. Thirteen-year-old Pinkney, who had by now begun his studies at the King Williams School in Annapolis, left school due to his family's new-found poverty and began what would become a lifelong course of independent study and learning. A few years later Pinkney sought out the tutelage of a Baltimore physician and began the study of medicine. While debating medical matters with his fellow medical students in 1782, Pinkney was overheard by attorney Samuel Chase, a former delegate to the Continental Congress who would be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1796. Chase was impressed by the eighteen-year-old Pinkney's arguments and oratory and decided to offer the young man the chance to train as an attorney. Pinkney joined Chase in February of 1783 and was called to the Bar of the state of Maryland in 1786.

Setting up a private law practice in Hartford County, Maryland, Pinkney quickly gained a high profile due to his ambition, his intellect, and the striking appearance he presented in public. Constantly seeking the public eye, he easily fell into the political realm and in the spring of 1788 was elected to the state of Maryland's convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Despite the opposition of both Pinkney and his mentor Chase, the Constitution was approved. Despite his unpopular stance at the convention, Pinkney won a seat to the U.S. House of Representatives and served his constituents there beginning