Pinckney was four times governor of South Carolina, also United States senator, and minister to Spain. He began as a Federalist, but from 1798 on, when he won a seat in the Senate, he was a strong Republican, tending increasingly toward democratic views.
Charles Pinckney is principally known as the author of the "Pinckney Plan" for a system of government for the United States [this plan was originally presented to the Constitutional Convention on May 29, 1787]. Unfortunately, the original draft has been lost, but it has been fairly fully reconstructed from the debates in the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787. The story of these debates is recorded elsewhere in these volumes with special reference to its religious-freedom proposals. Unfortunately the records are incomplete, but four things stand out clearly regarding Mr.Pinckney's activities.
(b) That he wished to satisfy the religious scruples of Quakers and some other groups, and so secured the ratification by the convention of the substitution of an alternative "affirmation" for an "oath" to support the Constitution by all members of Congress and state legislatures and by all executive and judicial officers both of the United States and of the several states.
(c) That he wished to guarantee religious freedom in the Federal Constitution by providing that "The legislature of the United States shall pass no law on the subject of religion"--a proposal which, though referred to the committee on detail, was apparently dropped, as we do not hear of it again until it appears in slightly revised form in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of two years later.
(d) That he united with James Madison in proposing that Congress should be specifically empowered to establish a university "in which no preference or distinction should be allowed on account of religion.
It would seem, then, that Charles Pinckney fully deserves a place among our American heroes of religious liberty. He showed more interest in it in the Constitutional Convention than any member other than James Madison, although ably seconded in one or more of his proposals by his distinguished second cousin, General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, sometimes erroneously credited with Charles Pinckney's leadership in the Federal religious-freedom cause, and by Gouverneur Morris of New York.
Pinckney also labored effectively for the ratification of the Constitution in his own state, where in the House of Representatives he secured by a vote of 76 to 75 the calling of a convention to consider ratification or rejection of the Federal Constitution. At this convention he made a remarkable speech containing several interesting references to religious freedom. He criticized a relatively liberal European nation--evidently France--for withholding from some citizens "the equal enjoyment of their religious liberties." He added, "How many thousands of the subjects of Great Britain, at this moment labor under Civil disabilities, merely on account of their religious persuasions! " He spoke of the great differences of religious convictions in the states, because of such different groups as Quakers, Roman Catholics, and "Calvinists." "For a people thus situated is a government to be formed--a people who have the justest opinion of their civil and religious rights, and who have risked everything in asserting and defending them."
His speech was an important factor in securing the final ratification of the Constitution by South Carolina by a vote of 149 to 73. This was accomplished May 23,1788.