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Convention: A Daily Journal

Center for Civics Education

Convention: A Daily Journal

Convention: A Daily Journal is a day-by-day journal of the 1787 Constitutional Convention convened by twelve of the original thirteen states to amend the Articles of Confederation and create a “more perfect union.” It chronicles the daily activities of the Convention, profiles the delegates and their interactions with each other, and looks back to life in America in the 1780s. Writing in the first person, the story is told from an “observer” hearing events as told in contemporary newspaper accounts and delegates’ personal notes and letters.

Monday, June 25, 1787

June 25, 2020 - 4 minute read

Charles Pickney

The Report of the Committee of the Whole presented to the Convention on June13 contains nineteen resolves and is generally based on the Virginia Plan presented by John Randolph on May 29. Today, the Convention considered the fourth resolve which proposes that the second branch of the national legislature be chosen by the individual State legislatures; be composed of members who are at least thirty years of age and hold terms of seven years; receive fixed stipends to be paid out of the national treasury; and be subject to the same restrictions as the first branch regarding holding other State or national offices during their service in Congress.

The first to speak was Charles Pinckney, asserting that the “efficacy of the system will depend on this article.”

Pinckney, as we have already noted, is second cousin to his fellow delegate from South Carolina, Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Charles is the son of a wealthy lawyer and planter who purchased a rice and indigo plantation known as Snee Farm along the Wando River just outside of Charleston. He served in the South Carolina provincial government, as a colonel and commanding officer in the Charles Town Militia and was dubbed by his community as “Col. Pinckney.” His eldest son, also called Charles, was studying law when the rebellion against the British erupted in April 1775. In 1779, as the British turned their military strategy from the north to the south, Charles enlisted in the Charleston Regiment of the South Carolina militia and fought in the battle of Savannah. When Charleston fell to the British in May 1780, both Charles and his father were captured and held by the British. Along with more than one hundred sixty other men, Col. Pinckney agreed to sign an oath of allegiance to the British in order to avoid having his property confiscated and destroyed. In February 1782, the South Carolina legislature voted a twelve percent financial penalty against him as punishment for his turn of allegiance. Seven months later, Col. Pinckney died, leaving his property, including Snee farm, to Charles.

Charles is currently a member of the South Carolina legislature and represents his state in the Confederation Congress as its youngest member. A determined nationalist, last year he chaired a committee in Congress which proposed seven specific additions to the Articles of Confederation in order to render the “federal government adequate to the ends for which it was instituted.” On May 29, immediately after Gov. Randolph presented the Virginia Plan, Pinckney offered his own plan, which is barely mentioned in the notes taken by James Madison or others keeping their own journals.

Handsome, ambitious, vain, and wise for his age, Pinckney today launched into a lengthy, rhapsodic speech, urging his colleagues to refrain from searching ancient societies and foreign countries and focus on the uniqueness of America. “The people of the United States,” he began, are perhaps the most singular of any that we are acquainted with. Among them there are fewer distinctions of fortune and less of rank, than among the inhabitants of any other nation. Every freeman has a right to the same protection and security.” There is “a greater equality than is to be found among the people of any other country.”

After a prolonged exposition on the governments and peoples of Great Britain, Rome, Germany, and others, Pinckney concluded “the people of this country are not only very different from the inhabitants of any state we are acquainted with in the modern world, but I assert that their situation is distinct from either the people of Greece or Rome or of any state we are acquainted with among the ancients.” The equality Pinckney spoke of “is likely to continue,” he said, “because in a new country, possessing immense tracts of uncultivated lands, where every temptation is offered to emigration and where industry must be rewarded with competency, there will be few poor and few dependent. Every member of society almost will enjoy an equal power of arriving at the supreme offices and consequently of directing the strength and sentiments of the whole community. None will be excluded by birth and few by fortune from voting.”

Pinckney’s optimism about this country could not be contained. “Our true situation appears to me to be this,” he continued, “a new extensive country containing within itself the materials for forming a government capable of extending to its citizens all the blessings of civil and religious liberty – capable of making them happy at home. This is the great end of republican establishments.” The system the Convention approves “must be suited to the habits and genius of the people it is to govern and must grow out of them.” The people of America are “as active, intelligent and susceptible of good government as any people in the world.”

In conclusion, Pinckney observed that “the confusion which has produced the current state is not owing to them. It is owing to the weakness and defects of a government incapable of combining the various interests it is intended to unite, and destitute of energy. All that we have to do then is to distribute the powers of government in such a manner [that] will reserve to the people the right of election they will not or ought not frequently to part with.” For all of Pinckney’s enthusiasm for equality and suffrage, it did not extend to the forty slaves he inherited from his father.

Following a robust debate, the Convention voted 9 - 2 that the second branch of the legislature should be chosen by the State legislatures, Pennsylvania and Virginia in the negative. A minimum of thirty years of age for members was approved unanimously.

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