Charles Pinckney

7th Governor of the State of South Carolina 1789-1792 and 1796-1798 and 1806-1808

Date Born: October 26, 1757

Date Died: October 29, 1824

Place Born: Charles Town, SC

Place Buried: St. Philip's Episcopal Churchyard,
Charleston, SC

Residence: Snee Farm, outside Charleston

Occupation: Lawyer, Soldier


Charles Pinckney (October 26, 1757–October 29, 1824) was an American politician who was a signer of the United States Constitution, Governor of South Carolina, a Senator and a member of the House of Representatives. He was the second cousin of fellow-signer Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and the previous governor of South Carolina, Thomas Pinckney. He married Mary Eleanor, daughter of Henry Laurens, in 1787, and they had at least three children.

Charles Pinckney was born at Charles Town, South Carolina. His father, Colonel Charles Pinckney, was a rich lawyer and planter, who on his death in 1782, was to bequeath Snee Farm, a country estate outside the city, to his son Charles. Charles Jr. was educated in Charles Town under Dr. Opiphant, and he became highly accomplished as a classical scholar. He also studied law under his father, and he started to practice law in 1779.

About that time, well after the War for Independence had begun, young Pinckney enlisted in the militia, though his father demonstrated ambivalence about the American Revolution. He became a lieutenant, and served at the Siege of Savannah (September-October 1779). When Charlestown fell to the British the next year, the youth was captured and remained a prisoner until June 1781.

Charles Pinckney also began a political career, serving in the Continental Congress (1777-78 and 1784-87) and in the state legislature. A nationalist, he worked hard in Congress to ensure that the United States would receive navigation rights to the Mississippi and to strengthen congressional power.

In 1779, Charles Pinckney was first elected to represent Christ Church Parish in the House of Representatives of the:
- 3rd General Assembly that met from 1779-1780
- 6th General Assembly that met from 1785-1786 - in a special election caused by a runoff
- 7th General Assembly that met from 1787-1788
- 8th General Assembly that met from 1789-1790

On January 21, 1789, Charles Pinckney was elected by the General Assembly as the next governor of South Carolina and he had to give up his seat in the House.

Pinckney's role in the Constitutional Convention is controversial. Although one of the youngest delegates, he later claimed to have been the most influential one and contended he had submitted a draft that was the basis of the final Constitution. Most historians have rejected this assertion. They do, however, recognize that he ranked among the leaders. He attended full time, spoke often and effectively, and contributed immensely to the final draft and to the resolution of problems that arose during the debates. He also worked for ratification in South Carolina (1788). That same year, he married Mary Eleanor Laurens, daughter of a wealthy and politically powerful South Carolina merchant; she was to bear at least three children.

Subsequently, Pinckney's career blossomed. From 1789 to 1792 he held the governorship of South Carolina, and in 1790 chaired the state's constitutional convention. During his administration, the public records of South Carolina were moved from Charleston to Columbia. The second session of the 8th General Assembly met in Columbia for the first time in January of 1790.

Also during this period, he became associated with the Federalist Party, in which he and his cousin Charles Cotesworth Pinckney were leaders. But, with the passage of time, the former's views began to change. In 1795, he attacked the Federalist-backed Jay's Treaty and increasingly began to cast his lot with Carolina backcountry Democratic-Republicans against his own eastern aristocracy.

In 1796, he became governor once again, defeating Thomas Sumter, and in 1798 his Democratic-Republican supporters helped him win a seat in the U.S. Senate. There, he bitterly opposed his former party, and in the presidential election of 1800 served as Thomas Jefferson's campaign manager in South Carolina.

The victorious Jefferson appointed Pinckney as Minister to Spain (1801-5), in which capacity he struggled valiantly but unsuccessfully to win cession of the Floridas to the United States, but did facilitate Spanish acquiescence in the transfer of Louisiana from France to the United States in 1803.

Upon completion of his diplomatic mission, his ideas moving ever closer to democracy, Pinckney headed back to Charleston and to leadership of the state Democratic-Republican Party.

In 1805, Charles Pinckney was again elected to represent Christ Church Parish in the House of Representatives of the:
- 16th General Assembly that met from 1804-1805 - replacing Arnold Wells, who had recently died.
- 17th General Assembly that met from 1806-1808

But he was again elected by the legislature to be the next governor of South Carolina on December 9, 1806. In this term, he favored legislative reapportionment, giving better representation to backcountry districts, and advocated universal white manhood suffrage.

After this term as governor, he was first elected to represent St. Philip's & St. Michael's Parish in the House of Representatives of the
- 19th General Assembly that met from 1810-1812
- 20th General Assembly that met from 1812-1813

After these terms, he then temporarily withdrew from politics. In 1818 he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he fought against the Missouri Compromise.

Pinckney commenced life as a Republican and champion of states' rights, and was the founder of the old Republican Party in South Carolina. He was instrumental in removing civil and political limits placed on Jews, and was the first, as governor, to advocate the establishment of free schools.

In 1821, Pinckney's health beginning to fail, he retired for the last time from politics. He died in 1824, just 3 days after his 67th birthday. He was laid to rest at St. Philip's Episcopal Churchyard in Charleston. Pickney's Snee Farm plantation is maintained as the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.


The American statesman Charles Pinckney was born on the 26th of October 1757 at Charles Town, South Carolina; he was the son of Charles Pinckney (1731-1784), first president of the first South Carolina Provincial Congress (January to June 1775), and a cousin of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Thomas Pinckney.

He was studying law at the outbreak of the war of independence, served in the early campaigns in the South, and in 1779 was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. He was captured by the British at the Fall of Charleston (1780), and remained a prisoner until the close of hostilities. He was elected a delegate to the Congress of the Confederation in 1784, 1785 and 1786, and in 1786 he moved the appointment of a committee "to take into consideration the affairs of the nation," advocating in this connection an enlargement of the powers of Congress. The committee having been appointed, Charles Pinckney was made chairman of a sub-committee which prepared a plan for amending the Articles of Confederation.

In 1787, he was a delegate to the Federal Constitutional Convention, and on the same day (May 29) on which Edmund Randolph presented what is known as the Virginia plan, Pinckney presented a draft of a constitution which is known as the Pinckney plan. Although the Randolph resolutions were made the basis on which the new constitution was framed, Pinckney's plan seems to have been much drawn upon. Furthermore, Pinckney appears to have made valuable suggestions regarding phrasing and matters of detail. On the 18th of August he introduced a series of resolutions, and to him should probably be accredited the authorship of the substance of some thirty-one or thirty-two provisions of the constitution.

Pinckney was president of the State Convention of 1790 that framed a new Constitution for South Carolina, was Governor of the state from 1789 to 1792, a member of the state House of Representatives in 1792-1796, and again Governor from 1796 to 1798. From 1799 to 1801, he was a member of the United States Senate.

He entered public life as a Federalist, but later became the leader in organizing the Democratic-Republican party in his state, and contributed largely to the success of Thomas Jefferson in the Presidential election of 1800. By Jefferson's appointment he was American minister to Spain from 1801 to 1805. In general his mission was a distinct failure, his arrogance and indiscretions finally causing the Spanish government to request his recall.

He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1805, was again Governor of South Carolina from 1806 to 1808, in 1810-1814 he was once more a member of the state House of Representatives, in which he defended President James Madison's war policy, and from 1819 to 1821 was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, in which he opposed the Missouri Compromise in a brilliant speech. He died at Charleston, South Carolina, on the 29th of October 1824.

The "Pinckney Plan" has been the subject of considerable discussion. When, in 1818, John Quincy Adams was preparing the journal of the convention for publication and discovered that the Pinckncy plan was missing, he wrote to Pinckney for a copy, and Pinckney sent him what he asserted was either a copy of his original draft or a copy of a draft which differed from the original in no essentials. But as this was found to bear a close resemblance to the draft reported by the committee of detail, Madison and others, who had been members of the convention, as well as historians, treated it as spurious, and for years Pinckney received little credit for his work in the convention.

Later historians, however, notably J. Franklin Jameson and Andrew C. McLaughlin, have accredited to him the suggestion of a number of provisions of the constitution as a result of their efforts to reconstruct his original plan chiefly from his speeches, or alleged speeches, and from certain papers of James Wilson, a member of the committee of detail, one of which papers is believed to be an outline of the Pinckney plan. See J. F. Jameson, "Studies in the History of the Federal Convention of 1787", in the Annual Report of the American Historical Association for 1902, vol. i.; A. C. McLaughlin, "Outline of Pinckney's Plan for a Constitution", in The Nation, April 28, 1904; an article entitled "Sketch of Pinckney's Plan for a Constitution", in the American Historical Review for July 1904; and C. C. Nott, The Mystery of the Pinckney Draught (New York, 1908), an attempt by a former Chief Justice of the U.S. Court of Claims to prove that the document sent by Pinckney to Adams in 1818 is a genuine copy of his original plan.

His son, Henry Laurens Pinckney (1794-1863), was a member of the state House of Representatives in 1816-1832, founded in 1819 and edited for fifteen years the Charleston Mercury, the great exponent of state's rights principles, and was a member of the National House of Representatives in 1833-1837.


<< Last Governor - Thomas Pinckney

<< First Term >>

Next Governor - William Moultrie >>

<< Last Governor - Arnoldus Vander Horst 

<< Second Term >>

Next Governor - Edward Rutledge >>

<< Last Governor - Paul Hamilton 

<< Third Term >>

Next Governor - John Drayton >>



© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved