Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Signer of the U.S. Constitution

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General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney

Birthplace: Charleston, South Carolina
Death: August 16, 1825 (79)
Charleston, South Carolina
Place of Burial: Charleston, SC, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Eliza Pinckney, 2nd wife
Husband of Sarah Pinckney and Mary Pinckney
Father of Maria Henrietta Andrews; Harriott Pinckney; Mr. Pinckney and Eliza Izard
Brother of George Lucas Pinckney, died in infancy; Henrietta Lucas Horry and Thomas Pinckney, US Congress

Occupation: Founder of American Republic
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Signer of the U.S. Constitution

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 
Marvin Zahniser. "Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth";;

American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.

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    From American National Biography, published by Oxford University
    Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies.
    Further information is available at

Charles Cotesworth "C. C." Pinckney (February 25, 1746 – August 16, 1825), was an early American statesman of South Carolina, Revolutionary War veteran, and delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He was twice nominated by the Federalist Party as their presidential candidate, but he did not win either election.

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was born into the Pinckney family of aristocratic planters in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 25, 1746. He was the son of Charles Pinckney, who would later serve as the chief justice of the Province of South Carolina, and the celebrated planter and agriculturalist, Eliza Lucas.[1] He was the elder brother of Thomas Pinckney, who served as Governor of South Carolina, as a U.S. Representative, and as a George Washington administration diplomat. His first cousin once removed, Charles Pinckney, served as Governor of South Carolina, as a U.S. Senator, and as a diplomat in the administration of Thomas Jefferson.

In 1753, Pinckney's father moved the family to London, England, where he served as the colony's agent (essentially as a lobbyist to protect South Carolina's commercial and political interests). Both Charles and his brother Thomas were enrolled in the Westminster School, where they remained after the rest of the family returned to South Carolina in 1758. Both brothers also studied at Oxford University. Pinckney graduated from Christ Church, Oxford with degrees in science and law, and proceeded to further study law with the prestigious Middle Temple society. Pinckney was called to the bar in 1769, but he continued his education in France for another year, studying botany and chemistry. He also had a brief stint at the Royal Military College at Caen.

In 1773, Pinckney married Sarah Middleton, whose father Henry Middleton served as the second President of the Continental Congress and whose brother Arthur Middleton signed the Declaration of Independence. Sarah died in 1784. In 1786, he remarried to Mary Stead, who came from a wealthy family of planters in Georgia. Pinckney had three daughters.

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Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Signer of the U.S. Constitution's Timeline

February 25, 1746
Charleston, South Carolina
December 17, 1776
Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina, United States
Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina, United States
August 16, 1825
Age 79
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, SC, United States