Charles Pinckney

Governor of South Carolina

In office

January 26, 1789 –December 5, 1792

Preceded by Thomas Pinckney
Succeeded by William Moultrie

Governor of South Carolina

In office

December 8, 1796 –December 18, 1798

Preceded by Arnoldus Vanderhorst
Succeeded by Edward Rutledge

Governor of South Carolina

In office

December 9, 1806 –December 10, 1808

Preceded by Paul Hamilton
Succeeded by John Drayton

Born October 26, 1757(1757-10-26)

Charles Town, South Carolina (now Charleston)

Died October 29, 1824(1824-10-29) (aged 67)

Charleston, South Carolina

Political party Federalist


Charles Pinckney (October 26, 1757 – October 29, 1824) was an American politician who was a signer of the United States Constitution, the 37th Governor of South Carolina, a Senator and a member of the House of Representatives. He was first cousin (once removed) of fellow-signer Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

Charles was an ancestor of seven future South Carolina governors, a few of which have very prominent South Carolinian names, including the Maybank and Rhett families.

Pinckney was born in Charleston, 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. The latter apparently received all his education in the city of his birth, and he started to practice law there 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 Revolution). He became a lieutenant, and served at the siege of Savannah (September-October 1779). When Charleston fell to the British the next year, the youth was captured and remained a prisoner until June 1781.

Pinckney had also begun a political career, serving in the Continental Congress (1777–78 and 1784–87) and in the state legislature (1779–80, 1786–89, and 1792–96). As a nationalist, he worked hard in Congress to ensure that the United States would receive navigation rights to the Mississippi River and to strengthen congressional power.

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, known as the Pinckney Plan, that was the basis of the final Constitution. He did submit a plan that was a more elaborate form of the Virginia Plan, submitted by Edmund Randolph, but it was disregarded by the other delegates. Historians recognize that he ranked as an important contributing delegate.[1] Pinckney's vanity led him to boast that he was only 24, allowing him to claim distinction as the youngest delegate. He was in fact 30 years old.[2] 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 wealthy and politically powerful South Carolina merchant Henry Laurens. They had at least three children.

Among his in-laws were Colonel John Laurens and U.S. Representative David Ramsay; another brother-in-law married the daughter of South Carolina Governor John Rutledge.

At the Convention, Pierce Butler and Pinckney, both from South Carolina, introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause (Article IV, Section II, Clause III). James Wilson of Pennsylvania objected, stating it would require that state governments enforce it at taxpayers' expense. Butler withdrew the clause. However, on the next day the clause was quietly reinstated and adopted by the Convention without objection. This clause was added to the clause that provided extradition for fugitives from justice.[3]

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

When first adopted, this clause applied to fugitive slaves and required that they be extradited upon the claims of their enslavers. This practice was eliminated when the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery. In 1864, during the Civil War, an effort to repeal this clause of the Constitution failed.[4]

Subsequently, Pinckney's career blossomed. From 1789 to 1792 he held the governorship of South Carolina, and in 1790 chaired the State constitutional convention. 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 back-country Democratic-Republicans against his own eastern aristocracy. In 1796 he became governor once again, 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 and facilitated Spanish acquiescence in the transfer of Louisiana from France to the United States in 1803. Pinckney's grave at St. Philip's in CharlestonUpon 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. He sat in the legislature in 1805-6 and then was again elected as Governor (1806-8). In this position, he favored legislative reapportionment, giving better representation to back-country districts, and advocated universal white manhood suffrage. He served again in the legislature from 1810 to 1814 and then temporarily withdrew from politics. In 1818 he won election to the United States House of Representatives, where he fought against the Missouri Compromise.

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"]." ("Signers", 1976)

Pinckney's Snee Farm plantation is maintained as Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.

His son, Henry L. Pinckney (September 24, 1794 - February 3, 1863) was a U.S. Representative from South Carolina. and Mayor of Charleston. His daughter married Robert Young Hayne, U.S. Representative, Mayor of Charleston, and Governor of South Carolina.