Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

"When William L. Pierce of Georgia sat down in Philadelphia to assess his
fellow delegates at what would become the Constitutional Convention of
1787, he saw Charles Pinckney as “a young Gentleman of the most
promising talents…intimately acquainted with every species of polite
learning” and possessing “a spirit of application and industry beyond most
Men.” The youngest of the South Carolina delegates and long-time
advocate of a strong central government, Pinckney had been among the
first to call for a general convention to amend the ineffective Articles of
Confederation by which the country had been governed since 1781. He
attended every session, served on the committee that prepared the rules of
procedure, and participated frequently and effectively in debates, speaking
“with great neatness and perspicuity” and treating “every subject as
fully…as it requires.” Of special note were his strong arguments for
protecting property interests and establishing a central government with a
clear separation of powers, a government that would represent the rights of
the people. He is most widely remembered for his celebrated draft of a
constitution, which, though never formally considered by the convention,
contained 30 or more provisions that were incorporated into the final
document. Although embroiled in controversy during his lifetime and
overlooked by early historians after his death, modern historians have
confirmed Charles Pinckney as a leader at the convention who helped
resolve problems that arose during the debates and contributed
significantly to the creation of the world’s oldest written national instrument
of government.

Charles Pinckney was born into a prominent Charleston, S.C., family on
October 26, 1757. His father, a wealthy planter and attorney, was also
commanding officer of the local militia, a member of the General
Assembly, and, in 1775, president of the South Carolina Provincial
Congress. The Pinckneys were part of Charleston’s social elite.

Young Charles received his basic schooling from Dr. David Oliphant, a
noted South Carolina scholar who emphasized history, the classics,
political science, and languages. In 1773, when the growing unrest
between Great Britain and the colonies disrupted Charles’s plans to attend
school in England, he stayed home and studied law with his father.

Charles’s career of public service started in 1779 at age 21 in the midst of
the American Revolution. After joining the South Carolina Bar, he
represented Christ Church Parish in the General Assembly and, as a
lieutenant in his father’s militia regiment, took part in the abortive Franco-
American attempt to retake Savannah, Ga., from the British.

When the British captured Charleston in the spring of 1780, Charles and
his father were arrested and imprisoned along with other American officers.
Charles remained confined until June 1781. His father, however, was freed
after swearing allegiance to the British Crown, an action that saved the
Pinckney estate, including Snee Farm, from confiscation.

In 1784, after serving briefly in the General Assembly, Charles Pinckney
was selected as a delegate to Congress, then meeting in Trenton, N.J. In
May 1787 he, his cousin Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Pierce Butler, and
John Rutledge represented South Carolina at the Constitutional Convention
meeting in Philadelphia to address the weaknesses in the Articles of
Confederation. Charles Pinckney took an active part in the debates and
subsequently labored diligently for South Carolina to ratify the new
Constitution, which it did on May 23, 1788.

In April 1788 Pinckney married Mary Eleanor Laurens, with whom he would
have three children. Over the next 10 years he held a variety of political
offices, including president of the South Carolina State Constitutional
Convention (1790), governor of South Carolina (1789-91, 1791-92, and
1796-98), and U.S. Senator (1798-1801).

During the nation’s formative years, the Pinckneys were supporters of the
Federalist Party. By 1795, however, Charles had come to view the
Federalists as the party of the rich and well-born and he joined Thomas
Jefferson’s newly formed Democratic-Republican Party, championing the
interests of rural Americans over those of the tidewater aristocracy. During
the Presidential campaign of 1800, Pinckney was Jefferson’s South
Carolina campaign manager and helped him win the election. As a reward,
Jefferson appointed him Ambassador to Spain, a post he held from 1801-
05. During that time, he helped to facilitate the transfer of Louisiana from
France and made a valiant but unsuccessful effort to get Spain to cede
Florida to the United States.

Pinckney returned to South Carolina in January 1806 and served briefly in
the General Assembly before being elected to his fourth and final term as
governor (1806-08). In 1818, after a final term in the legislature and a brief
retirement from active political life, he was elected to the U.S. House of
Representatives, from which he retired in 1821. He spent his final years
writing of his travels and political life. He died on October 29, 1824, at age
67, after more than 40 years of service to community, state, and nation. He
is buried at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charleston."

Text courtesy of the National Park Service's Official Park Brochure