Charles Pinckney (governor)

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Charles Pinckney
Charles-Pinckney - Gilbert Stuart.jpg
Portrait by Gilbert Stuart
37th Governor of South Carolina
Political party Federalist
Other political
SpouseMary Eleanor Laurens
Relations Colonel Charles Pinckney (father)
Frances Brewton (mother)
Residence(s)"Snee Farm", Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina
Profession Lawyer, Statesman

Charles Pinckney (October 26, 1757 October 29, 1824) was an American Founding Father, planter, and politician who was a signer of the United States Constitution. He was elected and served as the 37th governor of South Carolina, later serving two more non-consecutive terms. He also served as a U.S. Senator and a member of the House of Representatives. He was first cousin once removed of fellow signer Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.


Pinckney's descendants included seven future South Carolina governors, including men related to the Maybank and Rhett families.

Early life and education

Armorial Achievement of Charles Pinckney Coat of Arms of Charles Pinckney.svg
Armorial Achievement of Charles Pinckney

Pinckney was born and educated in Charles Town in the Province of South Carolina. His father, Colonel Charles Pinckney, was a rich lawyer and planter. His mother was Frances Brewton (b. 1733), daughter of a goldsmith and sister of Miles Brewton and Rebecca Brewton Motte, who were both also prominent in Charleston history.

His father had signed a loyalty oath to the British after they occupied Charleston in 1780 during the American Revolutionary War. This enabled him to keep his property. On his death in 1782, the senior Pinckney bequeathed Snee Farm, a plantation outside the city, and his numerous slaves, to his eldest son Charles.

Marriage and family

Busy with the war and his political career, Pinckney did not marry until 1788. He married Mary Eleanor Laurens on April 27, 1788, at Saint Philip's Church in Charleston. Mary was the daughter of Henry Laurens, a wealthy and politically powerful South Carolina slave trader. They had at least three children.

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


He was elected as a delegate to the Third Continental Congress (1777–78). He started to practice law in Charleston in 1779 at age 21. About that time, well after the War for Independence had begun, Pinckney enlisted in the militia. He became a lieutenant and served at the siege of Savannah. When Charleston fell to the British the next year, Pinckney was captured; he was held as a prisoner until June 1781 and sent north for a potential exchange. He did not return to Charleston until 1783. His father was also captured. Along with more than 160 men, Colonel Pinckney agreed to sign an oath of allegiance to the British, in order to avoid having his property confiscated and destroyed. After the war, Pinckney was fined 12% on his property for having sworn a Loyalist allegiance.

Pinckney was elected again to the Continental Congress following the war, serving 1784–1787. He was elected to the state legislature for several terms (1779–1780, 1786–1789, and 1792–1796). As a nationalist, he worked in Congress trying to ensure that the United States would receive navigation rights from Spain to the Mississippi River and to strengthen congressional power.

Pinckney eventually owned several plantations and a townhouse in Charleston in addition to Snee Farm: Frankville and Hopton, situated on both sides of the Congaree River, near Columbia; a plantation in Georgetown consisting of 560 acres of tidal swamp and 600 acres of high land; a tract of 1,200 acres called Lynches Creek; Fee Farm on the Ashepoo River; Shell Hall, a house with four acres of land at Haddrell's Point in Christ Church Parish; a house and garden lot on Meeting Street, Charleston; Wright's Savannah plantation on the Carolina side of the Savannah River; and a tract of land on the Santee River above the canal, including a ferry, called Mount Tacitus. After Pinckney married Eleanor Laurens in 1788, the elegant three-story brick home at 16 Meeting Street in Charleston presumably became his principal residence. In the 1790 federal census, he is recorded as holding "14 slaves in St. Philip's and St. Michael's Parish, 52 slaves in St. Bartholomew, and 45 slaves in the Orangeburg District", all in addition to Snee Farm, where his father's probate record had listed 40 slaves in 1787. [1]

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. This was strongly disputed by James Madison and some of the other framers. [2] Pinckney submitted an elaborate form of the Virginia Plan, proposed first by Edmund Randolph, but it was disregarded by the other delegates. Historians assess him as an important contributing delegate. [3] Pinckney boasted that he was 24, allowing him to claim distinction as the youngest delegate, but he was 29 years old at the time of the convention. [4] He attended full-time, spoke often and effectively, and contributed to the final draft and to resolution of problems that arose during the debates. He also worked for ratification of the Constitution in South Carolina (1788).

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, saying that it was special protection for slaveholders, requiring all state governments to enforce it at taxpayers' expense, in places where no one or most residents did not own slaves. Butler withdrew the clause, but the next day a southerner reinstated the clause and the Convention adopted it without further objection. This clause was added to the clause that provided extradition for fugitives from justice. [5]

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.

This clause was first applied to fugitive slaves and required that they be extradited upon the claims of their masters. Despite the clause, free states sometimes declined to enforce it. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 increased requirements on the states and penalties for failure to assist in the return of slaves. This practice was not eliminated until the Thirteenth Amendment abolished the institution of slavery. In 1864, during the Civil War, an effort to repeal this clause of the Constitution had failed. [6]

Pinckney introduced a clause into the Constitution in opposition to an established state religion. His No Religious Test Clause read as follows:

no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States

Once the inclusion of the phrase was brought to a vote, it passed with little opposition. For the first time, an official of a national government was not required to have a religion. [7] [8] Pinckney is also responsible for the inclusion of the writ of habeas corpus into the Constitution. [9] [10] Initially introduced as "Nor shall the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus ever be suspended, except in case of rebellion or invasion", [11] it is now a part of Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

Pinckney's political career blossomed. From 1789 to 1792, the state legislature elected him as governor of South Carolina, and in 1790 he 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 Treaty. He increasingly began to cast his lot with Carolina back-country Democratic-Republicans against his own eastern elite. The population in the western part of the state was increasing, but legislative apportionment favored the Low Country planters. In 1796 Pinckney was elected governor again by the state legislature. In 1798 his Democratic-Republican supporters in the legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate.

He strongly opposed actions by his former party. In the presidential election of 1800, he served as Thomas Jefferson's campaign manager in South Carolina. The victorious Jefferson appointed Pinckney as minister to Spain (1801–05). He tried but did not succeed in gaining cession Spanish Florida to the United States. He facilitated Spanish acquiescence in the transfer of Louisiana from France to the United States in 1803 by the Louisiana Purchase. (Spain had already returned rule of this territory to France under Napoleon.)

Pinckney's grave at St. Philip's in Charleston Pinckneygrave1.jpg
Pinckney's grave at St. Philip's in Charleston

Pinckney returned from Spain to Charleston and to leadership of the state Democratic-Republican Party. He served in the legislature in 1805–06 and was elected again as governor (1806–08). In this position, he favored legislative reapportionment in order to give more fair representation to back-country districts. He also 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 U.S. House of Representatives where he fought against the Missouri Compromise. A major slaveholder whose wealth depended on enslaved labor at his plantations, he supported expansion of the institution of slavery to new territories and states.

In 1821, with his health beginning to fail, Pinckney retired for the last time from politics. He died in 1824. A memorial was erected in Michael's Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The memorial was sculpted by Solomon Gibson (younger brother of John Gibson) in Liverpool in Great Britain. [12]

Legacy and honors

Pinckney's Snee Farm plantation is maintained as Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. His son, Henry L. Pinckney was a U.S. Representative from South Carolina, and mayor of Charleston. His daughter married Robert Young Hayne, who became a U.S. Representative, mayor of Charleston, and governor of South Carolina. Pinckney was a Freemason and a member of Solomon’s Lodge No. 1 in Charleston.

See also

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  1. Susan Hart Vincent, of Historic Land Design, Charles Pinckney National Historic Site: Cultural Landscape Report, pp. 16-18, Department of Interior, 1998, full text at Internet Archive
  2. James Madison on the Pinckney Plan, Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention,
  3. MacDonald Forrest,E Pluribus Anum: The Formation of the American Republic 1776–1790(Houghton Mifflin Company:Library of Congress Catalog Card: 65-111322) 1965 pp. 166–167.
  4. Yates Publishing. U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560–1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, US: The Generations Network, Inc., 2004.
  5. Paul Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson, p. 82, 2nd Edition, 2001.
  6. The vote in the House was 69 for repeal and 38 against, which was short of the two-to-one vote required to amend the Constitution. See the Congressional Globe, 38th Cong., 1st Sess., 1325 (1864)
  7. Drawn from original source: Charles C. Haynes (1991). "overview: history of religious liberty in America". A Framework for Civic Education. Council for the Advancement of Citizenship and the Center for Civic Education. Archived from the original on January 15, 2013.
  8. Drawn from original source: "The Individual Liberties within the Body of the Constitution: A Symposium: The No Religious Test Clause and the Constitution of Religious Liberty: A Machine That Has Gone of Itself." Case Western Reserve Law Review 37: 674–747. Dreisbach, Daniel L. 1999. "The Bill of Rights: Almost an Afterthought?". ABC-CLIO. 2011.
  9. A Constitutional History of Habeas Corpus, p. 127; William Duker, University of Michigan, 1980
  10. The Contribution of Charles Pinckney to the Formation of the American Union, p. 74; Andrew J. Bethea, 1937
  11. The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus Under the Constitution
  12. Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851 by Rupert Gunnis p.173
  13. Lo Wang, Hansi (November 3, 2022). "A controversial election theory at the Supreme Court is tied to a disputed document" . Retrieved November 3, 2022.
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of South Carolina
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of South Carolina
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of South Carolina
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 2) from South Carolina
Served alongside: Jacob Read, John Ewing Colhoun
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by U.S. Minister to Spain
Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by