About Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Pinckney was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1746, the son of Charles Pinckney and the celebrated planter, Eliza Lucas. He was also second cousin to Governor Charles Pinckney. As a child he was sent to England, like his brother Thomas after him, to be educated. Both of them were at Westminster and Oxford and were called to the bar, and for a time they studied in France at the Royal Military College at Caen.
Returning to America in 1769, C. C. Pinckney began to practice law in Charleston, and soon became deputy attorney general of the province. He was a member of the first South Carolina provincial congress in 1775, and also served as colonel in the South Carolina militia in 1776–1777. Pinckney was chosen president of the South Carolina Senate in 1779, and took part in the Georgia expedition and the attack on Savannah in the same year. He was captured at the fall of Charleston in 1780 and was kept in close confinement until 1782, when he was exchanged. In 1783, he was commissioned a brevet Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
After the war, Pinckney resumed his legal practice and the management of estates in the Charleston area but found time to continue his public service, which during the war had included tours in the lower house of the state legislature (1778 and 1782) and the senate (1779) (taken from the National Archives).
He was an influential member of the constitutional convention of 1787, advocating that slaves be counted as a basis of representation and opposing the abolition of the slave trade. He also advocated a strong national government to replace the current weak one. He opposed as impracticable the election of representatives by popular vote, and opposed the payment of senators, who, he thought, should be men of wealth. Subsequently, Pinckney played a prominent role in securing the ratification of the Federal constitution in the South Carolina convention called for that purpose in 1788 and in framing the South Carolina Constitution in the convention of 1790.
After the organization of the Federal government, President Washington offered Pinckney a series of appointments as associate justice of the Supreme Court (1791), Secretary of War (1795) and Secretary of State (1795), each of which he declined; but in 1796, he succeeded James Monroe as minister to France. The Directory refused to receive him, and he retired to the Netherlands. In the following year, he and fellow advisors Elbridge Gerry and John Marshall returned to Paris under the direction of President John Adams to serve as ministers in diplomatic negotiations with the French. France's demands for loans were perceived by the ministers as veiled bribery, and rejected. Pinckney is said to have made the famous reply rejecting France's demands, "No, no; not a penny." Another version is, "No, not a sixpence." The mission accomplished nothing, and Pinckney and Marshall left France in disgust, with Gerry remaining. Later, the secret correspondence of the commissioners was made public and sent to the United States Congress. The letters X, Y and Z, were inserted in the documents in place of the names of the commission's French agents, and they became known as the "XYZ Correspondence". The quote "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute" is often incorrectly attributed to Pinckney. Robert Goodloe Harper actually made this statement.
In 1800, he was the Federalist candidate for vice-president, and for president in 1804 and again in 1808, receiving 14 electoral votes in the former and 47 in the later year. From 1805 until his death, he was president-general of the Society of the Cincinnati. Pinckney died on August 16, 1825 and was buried in St. Michael's Churchyard in Charleston, S.C.
* Castle Pinckney, a fort in Charleston Harbor, was completed in 1797 and named for Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
* Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, a national wildlife refuge on the site of the Pinckney family's plantation is named after Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
* Pinckney Elementary School in Lawrence, Kansas is named for Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
* A school in Fort Jackson, South Carolina is called C.C. Pinckney Elementary.
* During World War II, a 422-foot Liberty Ship, SS Charles C. Pinckney, was named in his honor and built in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1942.
American National Biography Online
Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth (14 Feb. 1745-16 Aug. 1825), lawyer
and planter, was born in Charles Town (now Charleston), South
Carolina, the son of Charles Pinckney, a lawyer, and Eliza Lucas
Pinckney. Pinckney was born into a life of privilege and wealth.
His father was very active in the political life of colonial
South Carolina and in 1753 was appointed interim chief justice
of South Carolina, but his hopes were dashed when he was not
granted a permanent appointment; instead the office went to a
corrupt placeman of the Crown. Following this sharp disappointment,
in 1753 the Pinckney family moved temporarily to England, where
the father served as South Carolina's colonial agent. Charles
Cotesworth remained there until 1769 for his education. He studied
at Westminster School and matriculated in 1764 both at Christ
Church College, Oxford, and at the Middle Temple, London, where
he was called to the bar in 1769. He regularly attended debates
in the House of Commons. A family portrait shows him declaiming
against the Stamp Act of 1765, one indication that he was taking
an active interest in politics, particularly questions relating
to the American colonies.
Upon his return home in 1769 Pinckney was elected to the South
Carolina Commons House of Assembly. He immediately supported
the move to provide monetary assistance for the English political
radical John Wilkes. In 1773 he married Sarah "Sally" Middleton,
daughter of Henry Middleton, one of the richest men in South
Carolina. Through his marriage he became the brother-in-law of
Edward Rutledge, his best friend and political ally until Rutledge's
death in 1800. Pinckney participated in radical measures taken
against British authority. On the evening of 22 April 1775 he
and four colleagues seized British military stores. Then, as
a member of the Committee on Intelligence, he tried to persuade
backcountrymen to support the developing resistance to British
measures and assisted in readying Charleston for a rumored British
attack. He chaired the legislative committee that prepared a
constitution for South Carolina; adopted in March 1776, it was
conservative in nature and provided for generous representation
for Charleston. During the war Pinckney also played a key part
in bringing about disestablishment of the Episcopal church in South Carolina.
In the American War of Independence, Pinckney rose to the rank
of brigadier general. He participated in the expedition to East
Florida in the spring and summer of 1778, in the unsuccessful
defense of Savannah in December 1778, and in the failed defense
of Charleston in May 1780. Captured when Charleston fell, he
spent the rest of the war on parole, part of that time in Philadelphia.
He stoutly declined British offers of lenient treatment if he
denounced his earlier revolutionary activities. Exchanged in
1782, he returned to Charleston. Pinckney's hunger for military
fame was not fulfilled, in part through lack of opportunity,
in part through his lack of initiative. His hotheaded insistence
in 1780 that Charleston be defended at all cost indicated a lack
of sound judgment.
In postwar South Carolina, Pinckney immediately set about building
his fortunes through the purchase of new plantation land and
by building a very large law practice. His wife, with whom he
had three daughters, died in 1784, and he married Mary Stead
in 1786. They had no children. He busied himself as a director
of the Santee and Catawba canal projects, by attempting to negotiate
a boundary with Georgia, and by organizing in 1785 the Mount
Zion Society, whose purpose was to establish a much needed college
in South Carolina.
The great debts incurred by South Carolinians following the
war, the determination of some to confiscate the estates or to
expel those who had earlier assisted the British, the winds of
freedom let loose by the Revolution, and the demands of backcountry
politicians for equal status with the low-country aristocracy
created an unstable political environment in South Carolina in
the 1780s. Pinckney resisted those who favored extreme punishments
for Loyalists, denounced the easy-money elements, and defended
the low-country leadership within the state. It soon became clear
to him and his political friends that a stronger federal authority
could assist South Carolina in matters of international trade
and in achieving internal stability.
Pinckney was elected a delegate to the Federal Constitutional
Convention of 1787, where he opposed popular election for House
members and bitterly fought the proposal to grant a new federal
government the right to levy export taxes. As an exporting state,
South Carolina would, in his opinion, never accept a constitution
with this taxing power. He insisted that slaves be counted as
whole persons for purposes of determining political representation.
When northern delegates urged an immediate stop to importing
slaves, Pinckney suggested a compromise deadline of 1808. Back
in South Carolina, Pinckney became perhaps the most active and
able defender of the proposed constitution in the state legislature.
During George Washington's southern tour in 1791, the patriotism,
conservatism, and national orientation of the Rutledge-Pinckney
faction caught his attention. In May 1791 Washington asked Pinckney
and Edward Rutledge to consider a seat on the Supreme Court,
leaving it to them to decide which one would take the position.
Neither did, pleading the press of restoring their fortunes,
a reason Pinckney repeated when Washington offered him the secretaryship
of war in 1794.
John Jay's treaty, concluded with England in 1795, shook confidence
in the Washington administration in South Carolina. South Carolinian
plantation owners were particularly angry because England was
not forced to make compensation for thousands of slaves carried
off when the British evacuated Charleston in 1782. John Rutledge,
Edward's brother, led the denunciation of the treaty. Pinckney
quietly supported the treaty because his brother Thomas Pinckney,
the U.S. minister to Great Britain, believed its terms to be
reasonable. His reward was an offer of a ministership to France,
which he accepted. As a firm friend of the French Revolution,
Pinckney assumed that he would be received by the French government,
although he knew it to be angered by Jay's Treaty and by Washington's
abrupt recall of the U.S. minister to France, James Monroe.
When Pinckney arrived in France in December 1796, the French
government threatened him with imprisonment and finally expelled
him in January 1797. The Directory (the regime in power) was
determined to show the American government that the French-American
Treaty of Alliance of 1778 remained in force and that Jay's Treaty
was not acceptable. Pinckney now spent several months in the
Netherlands awaiting new orders from his government. He returned
to Paris in September 1797 as part of a negotiating team appointed
by President John Adams that also included Elbridge Gerry of
Massachusetts and John Marshall of Virginia. Pinckney became
outraged by the French demands for an American governmental loan;
he believed such a loan could not be neutral in nature, given
France's belligerent relationship with England. The French negotiating
agents, three of whom are known to history as X, Y, and Z, also
asked for bribes in order to expedite the negotiating process
with the French government. Pinckney's indignant refusal, "no,
no, not a sixpence," was eventually elevated to "Millions for
defense but not one cent for tribute." In high dudgeon Pinckney
left Paris in April 1798 and left France that August, convinced
that the French intended war and that America should make immediate
preparations to fight.
Returning home, Pinckney found a new army in formation and was
offered the position of third in command, behind Washington and
Colonel Alexander Hamilton. He accepted, despite Hamilton's inferior
revolutionary army rank, and played a very public role in preparing
the South for a feared French invasion. He sided with the Federalists'
combative position against France, which brought him considerable
criticism and even ridicule from those who wanted reconciliation
with the French.
In 1800 the Federalists chose Pinckney as their candidate for
vice president. Hamilton and the High Federalists conspired to
secure a majority of electoral votes for Pinckney as president,
rather than John Adams. Pinckney absolutely refused to countenance
such a scheme, and it was defeated.
After 1800 Pinckney increasingly retreated to Pinckney Island,
a full day's journey from Charleston, where he remained with
his three daughters except for the social season or to attend
legislative duties. He busied himself with agricultural experiments,
reflecting perhaps his mother's early interest in developing
indigo suitable for commercial export. In 1801, as state senator
for Charleston (1800-1804), he guided a bill through the senate
to found a college in Columbia, now the University of South Carolina,
and served on its first board of trustees.
In 1804, in the full tide of the Jeffersonian triumph, and in
1808 as well, he was nominated by the Federalists for president.
He had no chance of victory in either election and did not campaign.
Only a slight stir of activity occurred in 1808. In none of the
three national elections did Pinckney obtain an electoral majority
in South Carolina; the state was Jeffersonian in orientation
and would not cast its electoral vote even for an admired son.
Upon Alexander Hamilton's death in 1805, Pinckney succeeded
him as president-general of the Society of the Cincinnati, an
organization of officers who had served in the revolutionary
war. He held that office until his death. A person of considerable
piety, Pinckney assisted in founding the Bible Society of Charleston
in 1810 and was elected in 1817 as one of twenty vice presidents
of the American Bible Society. Very late in life, Pinckney mounted
an unsuccessful campaign to abolish the rising practice of dueling.
He made his last public appearance in 1825 when he received the
Marquis de Lafayette upon his visit to Charleston. After his
house on Pinckney Island was destroyed by a storm in 1824, Pinckney
lived his last days in Charleston, where he died.
The breadth of Pinckney's contributions to state and early national
life has placed him in the charmed circle of Founding Fathers.
He was a conservative revolutionary, bred to the law, who believed
in rule by the elite, who should be guided by integrity and religious
values. He saw himself as part of a service gentry, self-appointed
to guard both local and national interests. His powerful political
support for adoption of the federal Constitution, and for the
new national government in its early years, was highly important.
Pinckney was ever in the vanguard of those establishing educational
and religious enterprises. Like most South Carolinians of his
time, he was a firm supporter of slavery. Pinckney was not a
person of great political or social vision, but he embodied the
solid virtues of South Carolina's low-country gentry.
The major collection of Pinckney Family Papers is in the Manuscripts
Division, Library of Congress. Minor collections of Pinckney
letters are in the South Carolina Historical Society, the South
Caroliniana Library of the University of South Carolina, the
Duke University Library, and the New York Public Library. No
collection of Pinckney papers is especially full on Charles Cotesworth
Pinckney until the early 1790s. See also the papers of the Rutledge,
Middleton, and Laurens families and, after the early 1790s, the
papers of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Timothy Pickering,
Elbridge Gerry, and John Rutledge, Jr. The standard biography
of Pinckney is Marvin R. Zahniser, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney:
Founding Father (1967). Useful for interpretation and insight
are George C. Rogers, Jr., Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys
(1969), and Robert M. Weir, Colonial South Carolina: A History
(1983). Francis L. Williams has written a fact-filled study,
A Founding Family: The Pinckneys of South Carolina (1978). Information
on Pinckney's mother is found in Elise Pinckney, ed., The Letterbook
of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1739-1762 (1972), and a dated biography
by Harriott Horry Ravenel, Eliza Pinckney (1902). See also William
C. Stinchcombe, The XYZ Affair (1980).
Marvin Zahniser. "Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Signer of the U.S. Constitution's Timeline
February 25, 1746
Charleston, South Carolina
September 28, 1773
August 16, 1825
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, SC, USA