Charles Cotesworth Pinckney

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Founding Fathers
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.jpg
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
State South Carolina
Religion Episcopalian
Founding Documents United States Constitution

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (February 25, 1746 – August 16, 1825) was a lawyer and politician from South Carolina. He attended the Federal Constitutional Convention and signed the United States Constitution.

Early life

Charles was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 25, 1746. His father was Charles Pinckney, a planter and aristocrat who would later serve as the chief justice of the Province of South Carolina; his mother was Eliza Lucas, a famous agriculturalist known for the cultivation of indigo.

In 1753 the family moved to London, where Pinckney's father served as agent for the colony of South Carolina. Charles and his brother Thomas enrolled in the famous Westminster preparatory school, and remained in England to complete their education when the family returned to America in 1758. Thomas graduated from Christ Church College at Oxford, and subsequently law at London's Middle Temple. After being admitted to the bar in 1769, Charles continued his education, studying botany and chemistry; he was also briefly enrolled in the French military academy at Caen.[1] For a time he worked together at a law practice with fellow Founder Edward Rutledge.[2]

Military career

Unwilling to sit passively by and watch others fight for his liberty, Pinckney volunteered for service in the Continental Army, where he raised and led the Grenadiers of the 1st South Carolina Regiment. He participated in the successful defense of Charleston in June 1776; later that year, he was promoted to Colonel.

Following the defense of Charleston, Pinckney joined Washington's staff, participating in military operations around Brandywine and Germantown. Following his time as part of Washington's cadre, Pinckney returned to South Carolina to resume command of his own regiment. Pinckney's 1st South Carolina helped repulse an attack from British East Florida; however, the attempted counterattack failed due to logistical difficulties and British victories.

In 1780, Pinckney participated in the [siege of Charleston]. The defenders were unable to hold the city, and on May 12, 1780, Major General Benjamin Lincoln Major General Lincoln surrendered to the British. Pinckney became a prisoner of war, along with the other officers. As a prisoner of war, he played a key role in maintaining the loyalty of the captured troops. When his captors attempted to subvert Pinckney himself, he said: "If I had a vein that did not beat with the love of my Country, I myself would open it. If I had a drop of blood that could flow dishonourable, I myself would let it out."

Pinckney was held until 1782, when he was freed as part of a general exchange of prisoners. He continued to serve until the southern regiments were disbanded, receiving a brevet promotion to brigadier general shortly before this occurred.[1]

Constitutional Convention

Following the Revolutionary War, Pinckney was gravely concerned by the disunity and complacency he saw among the states. He became an outspoken advocate of the need for a strong political, economic, and military union between the several states; as a result, South Carolina chose him to represent the state at the Constitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787. Pinckney argued both for a strong federal government and equally strong safeguards against tyranny.

Other members of the South Carolina delegation to the convention were John Rutledge, Pierce Butler, and his cousin[3] Charles Pinckney.

Later Political Service

Pinckney retired from politics in 1790 to devote himself to religious and charitable work. Despite President George Washington's repeated offers of high office, Pinckney continually declined until 1796, when he agreed to serve as ambassador to France. As ambassador, Pinckney played a central role in the infamous XYZ Affair. Pinckney's patriotism and sense of honor led him to break off all negotiations when Charles Maurice de Tallyrand first ignored him and then demanded a bribe as a condition of negotiating a treaty concerning French attacks on American vessels; returning home, Pinckney again took up arms in defense of his country, this time as a major general in the new Provisional Army, a position he held until 1800.

Pinckney ran unsuccessfully for vice president on the Federalist ticket with John Adams in 1800; in 1804 and 1808, he was the Federalist candidate for the Presidency, losing to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, respectively. He also served for two terms in the South Carolina senate. His tomb bears an inscription that captures the essence of his loyalty to the highest national aspirations and standards of his period: "One of the founders of the American Republic. In war he was a companion in arms and friend of Washington. In peace he enjoyed his unchanging confidence."


Pinckney died on August 16, 1825, and was buried in St. Michael's Churchyard in Charleston, South Carolina. His tomb bears the inscription: "One of the founders of the American Republic. In war he was a companion in arms and friend of Washington. In peace he enjoyed his unchanging confidence."