Thomas Pinckney

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Thomas Pinckney (October 23, 1750 – November 2, 1828) was an early American statesman, diplomat, and soldier in both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, achieving the rank of major general. He served as Governor of South Carolina and as the U.S. minister to Great Britain. He was also the Federalist candidate for vice president in the 1796 election.

Born into a prominent Charleston, South Carolina family, Pinckney studied in Europe before returning to America. He supported the independence cause and worked as an aide to General Horatio Gates. After the Revolutionary War, Pinckney managed his plantation and won election as Governor of South Carolina, serving from 1787 to 1789. He presided over the state convention which ratified the United States Constitution. In 1792, he accepted President George Washington's appointment to the position of minister to Britain, but was unable to win concessions regarding the impressment of American sailors. He also served as an envoy to Spain and negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo, which defined the border between Spain and the United States.

Following his diplomatic success in Spain, the Federalists chose Pinckney as John Adams's running mate in the 1796 presidential election. Under the rules then in place, the individual who won the most electoral votes became president, while the individual who won the second most electoral votes became vice president. Although Adams won the presidential election, Democratic-Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson won the second most electoral votes and won election as vice president. After the election, Pinckney served in the United States House of Representatives from 1797 to 1801. His brother, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, was the Federalist vice presidential nominee in 1800 and the party's presidential nominee in 1804 and 1808. During the War of 1812, Pinckney was commissioned as a major general.

Early life and Revolutionary War years

Pinckney was born in Charlestown in the Province of South Carolina, where his father, Charles Pinckney, was a prominent colonial official. His mother Eliza Lucas was also from a prominent family, and was known for her introduction of indigo culture to the colony. When Pinckney was 3, his father took the family to Great Britain on colonial business, where he died in 1758. His mother kept the family in Great Britain, and Pinckney continued his education at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, also studying in France.

At the age of 24, Pinckney returned to South Carolina in 1774, becoming an ardent Patriot in the American Revolution. In 1775 he was commissioned as captain in the 1st South Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army.

After seeing much action, he became an aide-de-camp to General Horatio Gates, and was captured by the British at the disastrous Battle of Camden in 1780.<ref name="John"></ref> By that time he had married and had an infant child. He was allowed to recuperate from his wounds at his mother-in-law Rebecca Brewton Motte's plantation outside Charleston. In 1781 he and his family traveled to Philadelphia, where he was released by the British in a prisoner exchange. Pinckney returned to the South and that year fought under the Marquis de Lafayette in Virginia.

Postbellum and politics

Governor and ambassador

After the war, Pinckney spent some years running his plantations before he returned to politics. Pinckney was elected and served as the 36th Governor of South Carolina from 1787 to 1789, most notably presiding over the state convention that ratified the new U.S. Constitution. He served in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1791.

He was appointed by President George Washington to be the U.S. minister (ambassador) to Great Britain in 1792. While there, he was unable to get British concessions on issues such as impressment or the Northwest frontier forts, so Washington sent John Jay as a special envoy to negotiate the controversial Jay Treaty. For part of his tenure (1794–1795) as ambassador in Britain, Pinckney also served as Envoy Extraordinary to Spain. He arranged the Treaty of San Lorenzo, also known as Pinckney's Treaty, with Spain in 1795.

Upon his return to the United States, Pinckney joined with his mother-in-law, Rebecca Motte in developing a rice plantation known as Eldorado on the Santee River outside Charleston. She lived there with him and her daughter and grandchildren in her later years.

Federalist nominee

Pinckney's diplomatic success with Spain made him popular at home, and on his return the Federalist party nominated him as a candidate in the 1796 presidential election. The Federalists were strongest in the region of New England, and they hoped that Pinckney's Southern roots would help him win votes in his home region. Pinckney would be the ostensible running mate of Vice President John Adams, but under the electoral rules in place prior to the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, each member of the Electoral College cast two votes for president with no distinction made between presidential votes and vice presidential votes. Pinckney, Adams, and the main Democratic-Republican candidates, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, each had a potential chance at winning the presidency.<ref name="heiden1">Template:Cite journal</ref>

Alexander Hamilton clashed with Adams over control of the Federalist Party, and he may have worked to elect Pinckney as president over Adams.<ref name="heiden1"/> Many Democratic-Republicans held favorable views of Pinckney, who had not been closely identified with the Federalist Party before 1796. Some Democratic-Republicans hoped that Pinckney could bridge partisan divides. Thus, Pinckney could potentially attract electors who would not consider voting for Adams.<ref name="ascherr">Template:Cite journal</ref>

In the election, most New England electors voted for the Federalist candidates, most Southern electors voted for Democratic-Republican candidates, and the two parties each received support from electors in the middle states. South Carolina split its vote between Jefferson and Pinckney, awarding each candidate 8 electoral votes. However, several New England electors, fearing the possibility of Pinckney's election over Adams, refused to vote for Pinckney. Adams finished with 71 electoral votes, Jefferson with 68 electoral votes, and Pinckney with 59 electoral votes. Adams became president and, under the rules then in place, the runner-up, Jefferson, became vice president.<ref name="heiden1"/>

Later public service

Pinckney was elected to the United States House of Representatives from South Carolina to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of William L. Smith, serving from November 1797 to March 1801. While in Congress, Pinckney served as one of the managers appointed by the House in 1798 to conduct the impeachment proceedings against William Blount.

Pinckney returned to the military during the War of 1812, being commissioned as a major general in the army. In 1814, he was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.<ref>American Antiquarian Society Members Directory</ref> His last public role before his death in Charleston was as president general of the Society of the Cincinnati (1825–1828), made up of veteran officers of the Revolutionary War.

Denmark Vesey conspiracy

In 1822, news was reported of a massive planned slave uprising, to be led by Denmark Vesey, a literate free man of color. Vesey and numerous other free blacks and slaves were quickly arrested in a roundup and suppression of rebellion by authorities. Slaves constituted the majority of the population in Charleston, where there was a substantial population of free people of color. Whites long feared just such an uprising. In closed court proceedings, and Vesey and numerous other suspects were convicted; they were soon executed as conspirators. Arrests continued, with some suspects deported from the country.

Pinckney published a pamphlet listing factors that he thought led to the rebellion conspiracy and should be prevented in the future.

  • 1st: The example of St. Domingo (Saint-Domingue) (Note: A violent and protracted slave uprising there gained the independence of Haiti in 1804), and the encouragement received from thence.
  • 2nd: The indiscreet zeal in favor of universal liberty, expressed by many of our fellow citizens in the States north and east of Maryland; aided by the black population of those states.
  • 3rd: The idleness, dissipation, and improper indulgences permitted among all classes of negroes in Charleston, and particularly among the domestic being taught to read and write. Being taught to read and write is the most dangerous.
  • 4th: The facility of obtaining money afforded by the nature of their occupations to those employed as mechanics, draymen, fisherman, butchers, porters and hucksters.
  • 5th: The disparity of numbers between the white and black inhabitants of the city.<ref></ref>


Pinckney died in Charleston, South Carolina and is interred in St. Philip’s Churchyard.

Legacy and honors


His father, Charles Pinckney, was Chief Justice of South Carolina. His mother, Eliza Lucas, was prominent for introducing the cultivation of indigo to the colonies. His brother Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and his cousin Charles Pinckney were signers of the United States Constitution.

Pinckney was married twice to daughters of Jacob and Rebecca Brewton Motte, first to Elizabeth Motte in 1779. After her death, he married in 1797 her younger sister, Frances Motte (Middleton), the widow of John Middleton, a cousin of Arthur Middleton. The Mottes were planters near Charleston and patriots in the Revolution.

  • Pinckney's elder son, Thomas, Jr., married Elizabeth Izard, a cousin twice removed of South Carolina Congressman Ralph Izard.
  • His younger son, named Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1789–1865) after his brother, married Phoebe Elliott, a daughter of a South Carolina State Representative, William Elliott, and Phoebe Waight. That son served as Lt. Governor of South Carolina between 1832 and 1834.
  • Pinckney's daughter Elizabeth was married to William Lowndes, son of Revolutionary War-era South Carolina Governor Rawlins Lowndes, who would go on to be a leading Democratic-Republican Party voice in the House of Representatives from 1812 until his death in 1822. Lowndes's connection to the Pinckneys, despite their contradictory politics, played a major role in his initial election to Congress in 1811.



  • Purcell, L. Edward. Who Was Who in the American Revolution. New York: Facts on File, 1993. Template:ISBN. For details on military service.
  • Southwick, Leslie. Presidential Also-Rans and Running Mates, 1788–1996. McFarland & Company, 1998. Template:ISBN.
  • Vipperman, Carl. William Lowndes and the Transition of Southern Politics (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1989), 24–32.

External links