Charles Pinckney was born on October 26, 1757, in Charleston, South Carolina, to Colonel Charles Pinckney and Frances Brewton Pinckney. His family decided not to send Charles abroad for his education, so he was mainly taught by tutors at home. One such tutor was Dr. David Oliphant, an Enlightenment scholar who would instill in Charles the Enlightenment ideals of the social contract between the people and the sovereign. Oliphant also encouraged Charles' life-long love of education and helped him in mastering five languages. Charles eventually (at the age of 30) received an honorary degree from the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton). Charles was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1779 after studying the law in Charleston under his father's direction.

Together with the education he received from Oliphant, and the tenor of the times, Charles was naturally very interested in the politics of the day. He was elected to the South Carolina legislature for the first time 1777. Against his father's wishes (the Colonel would, after the War, seek a Royal Pardon), Charles enlisted in the South Carolina militia during the American War for Independence. He became a lieutenant and served during the siege of Savannah. When Charleston fell to the British forces the following year, Charles was captured and was a prisoner of war until June 1781.

After his repatriation, Charles retired from active service in the militia and returned to the South Carolina legislature. In 1784 he was asked to be one of the representatives from South Carolina in the Continental Congress. He believed that the nation needed to be united, for the problems facing the fledging country were too large for individual states to deal with on their own. In 1786, he was among the Congressmen who wanted to grant the Federal authority the right to raise revenues and in 1787 he led the debate to appoint a general committee to amend the Articles of Confederation in order to strengthen the powers of the Federal government. This debate led to the calling of the Constitutional Convention. South Carolinians chose him to represent them at the Convention.

Charles arrived at the Convention in Philadelphia with many ideas and proposals for the revision of the Articles of Confederation. Thirty or more of the Constitution's provisions came directly from him, such as the subordination of the military to the civil authority; making the President Commander in Chief of the military but making Congress responsible for the decisions to declare war and maintain military forces. He attempted to have the Constitution guarantee such rights as trial-by-jury and freedom of the press. These would later become part of the first ten amendments to the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights.

In 1788 Charles returned to South Carolina to lead the Nationalists in the ratification of the Constitution; he chaired a state assembly to draft a new Constitution for the state of South Carolina; he was elected Governor of the state.

During the Constitutional Convention Charles met and worked with many of the men would later become known as the Federalists and at that time shared many of their political ideals. However, as time went on, his personal political ideals became more compatible with Jefferson and Madison and the Democratic-Republicans. Charles worked as Jefferson's campaign manager in South Carolina during the election of 1800 and helped get Jefferson elected, even though one of his Federalist cousins was seeking the office. As a reward for his help in getting Jefferson elected to the Presidency, Charles was made ambassador to Spain in 1801. While ambassador, he successfully negotiated the Louisiana Purchase for the United States but was unable to gain the territory that would later become the state of Florida. Charles ended his embassage in 1804 and returned to the United States.

Upon returning home, Charles returned to the South Carolina state legislature and, in 1806, was elected to the office of Governor for the fourth time. He tried to retire from politics entirely in 1814. Over the years of public service he had lost a great deal of his personal fortune and he needed to spend more time on his personal finances and with his family. However, his political allies asked him to represent South Carolina one more time. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1818. In 1821, his health failing, Charles retired from public life for good. He died October 29, 1824, in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. His family farm, Snee Farm, exists today as the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.


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