Founders and the Constitution

Charles Pinckney (1757-1824)

Clock One 45-minute class period.

In this lesson, students will study the life of Charles Pinckney. They will learn about his contributions to the Founding, his views on the Articles of Confederation, his role at the Constitutional Convention, and much more.

Founding Principles

Limited Government image

Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Representative / Republican Government image

Representative / Republican Government

Form of government in which the people are sovereign (the ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.


They [Africans] certainly must have been created with less intellectual power than the whites, and were most probably intended to serve them, and be the instruments of their cultivation. - Charles Pinckney, Debate about the Missouri Compromise (1821)


Born near Charles Town (now Charleston), South Carolina, Charles Pinckney was the child of a wealthy family. He received a first-rate education and became an accomplished lawyer. Pinckney joined the state militia during the American Revolution and fought the British at Savannah and Charles Town. After the war, he became a member of the Confederation Congress and then a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention, which was convened for the purpose of revising the Articles. A moderate whose wartime experience caused him to see the necessity for a stronger central government, Pinckney nevertheless was jealous of the rights of the South in general and his native state in particular.

Pinckney was most sensitive to infringements upon the South’s right to preserve slavery and the slave trade. Like most Americans of his time—in both North and South—Pinckney held what modern people would call “racist” views. Pinckney saw slavery as a positive good and could not imagine blacks as equals. He therefore fought for the protection of the slave trade at the Constitutional Convention and, thirty years later, opposed the Missouri Compromise because it set the dangerous precedent of allowing the federal Congress to outlaw slavery in the territories.

Relevant Thematic Essays


In this lesson, students will learn about statesman Charles Pinckney. They should first read as background homework Handout A—Charles Pinckney (1757–1824) and answer the Reading Comprehension Questions. After discussing the answers to these questions in class, the teacher should have the students answer the Critical Thinking Questions as a class. Next, the teacher should introduce the students to the primary source activity, Handout C—In His Own Words: Charles Pinckney and the Issue of Slavery, 1787, in which Pinckney and other Founders debate Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 of the Constitution (the “Slave Trade Clause”).As a preface, there is Handout B—Vocabulary and Context Questions, which will help the students understand the document.

Next, ten students will assume the roles of the delegates and read the document in a dramatic presentation. The students will then complete Handout D—Analysis: Debate about Article I, Section 9, Clause 1, which analyzes and summarizes the views of the delegates in table form. There are Follow-Up Homework Options that ask the students to summarize the views of a particular delegate or create a diary entry for him. Extensions provides opportunity for thought as students are asked to examine Pinckney’s views about slavery thirty years later during the debate about the Missouri Compromise.


Students will:

  • evaluate the importance of Pinckney’s contributions to the Founding
  • understand Pinckney’s views on the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution
  • analyze Pinckney’s role in the Constitutional Convention
  • understand the arguments about Article I, Section 9, Clause 1
  • appreciate the passions and the interests of both pro- and antislavery proponents


Student Handouts

  • Handout A—Charles Pinckney (1757–1824)
  • Handout B—Vocabulary and Context Questions
  • Handout C—In His Own Words: Charles Pinckney and the Issue of Slavery
  • Handout D—Analysis: Debate about Article I, Section 9, Clause 1

Additional Teacher Resource

  • Answer Key


CCE (9–12): IC2, IIB1, IIIA2
NCHS (5–12): Era III, Standard 3A; Era IV, Standard 3B
NCSS: Strands 1, 2, 5, 6, and 10

Background Homework

Ask students to read Handout A—Charles Pinckney (1756–1824) and answer the Reading Comprehension Questions.

Warm-up 10 min.

  1. Review answers to homework questions.
  2. Conduct a whole-class discussion to answer the Critical Thinking Questions.
  3. Ask a student to summarize the historical significance of Charles Pinckney.

    Charles Pinckney was a southern landowner who was one of the most active participants in the Constitutional Convention. Speaking more than 100 times, he contributed ideas about the role of the executive branch, the powers of the federal government, and the place of slavery in the new nation. In later years, he was one of the key figures in the debate about the extension of slavery into the territories.

Context 10 min.

  1. Briefly review with students the controversial discussions of slavery at the Constitutional Convention. One of the most heated discussions revolved around what would eventually become Article I, Section 9, Clause 1. Write the following on the board or overhead:

    The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.

  2. Help the students (as a large group) paraphrase this excerpt. Answers will vary, but the paraphrasing should be similar to the following:

    Congress will not prohibit the importation of slaves [such persons] before 1808 and Congress may tax each imported slave at a rate of $10 each.

    Explain to the students that they will listen to and analyze the arguments offered during the debate about this clause at the Constitutional Convention.

In His Own Words 20 min.

  1. Distribute Handout B—Vocabulary and Context Questions.
  2. Distribute Handout C—In His Own Words: Charles Pinckney and the Issue of Slavery. Be sure that the students understand the vocabulary and the “who, what, where, and when” of the document.
  3. Choose ten students who are good dramatic readers to read the parts of the ten delegates to the Convention. Give the students a couple of minutes to review the parts, and encourage them to read with fervor.
  4. Give the students Handout D—Analysis: Debate about Article I, Section 9, Clause 1. Divide the class into groups, one group for each of the delegates. Have each group complete the appropriate sections of Handout D. It might be helpful to have a brief discussion of the differences between moral, economic, and political arguments for and against slavery.

Wrap-up Discussion 5 min.

Have the students share their answers to Handout D. Ask them to consider which delegates defended slavery and which opposed it. Did any delegates take a middle ground in regard to slavery?
Answers will vary.

Follow-Up Homework Options

  1. Have the students summarize in a short essay the arguments of one delegate, based on Handouts C and D. Be sure to assign each delegate to at least one student.
  2. Have the students assume the identity of one of the delegates and write a diary entry that describes his thoughts and feelings as he spends a day at the convention. Again, be sure to assign each delegate to at least one student.


Mr. Madison. At the conclusion of the debate about Article I, Section 9, Clause 1, James Madison made the following comment:

“Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the National character than to say nothing about it in the Constitution.”

The Debate Continues. Thirty years after the Constitutional Convention, Charles Pinckney, then a member of the House of Representatives, participated in the debates regarding the admission of Maine and Missouri to the Union. Both states were admitted, Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state, along with the added proviso that slavery would be prohibited north of 36°30′ latitude. This arrangement is known as the Missouri Compromise. Pinckney’s comments included the following:

In considering this article, I will detail, as far as at this distant period is possible, what was the intention of the Convention that formed the Constitution in this article. The intention was, to give Congress a power, after the year 1808, to prevent the importation of slaves either by land or water from other countries. The word import, includes both, and applies wholly to slaves. Without this limitation, Congress might have stopped it sooner under their general power to regulate commerce; and it was an agreed point, a solemnly understood compact, that, on the Southern States consenting to shut their ports against the importation of Africans, no power was to be delegated to Congress, nor were they ever to be authorized to touch the question of slavery; that the property of the Southern States in slaves was to be as sacredly preserved, and protected to them, as that of land, or any other kind of property in the Eastern States were to be to their citizens. (14 February, 1820)

I perfectly knew that there did not then exist such a thing in the Union as a black or colored citizen, nor could I then have conceived it possible such a thing could have ever existed in it; nor, notwithstanding all that has been said on the subject, do I now believe one does exist in it. (13 February, 1821)

Sources: “Charles Pinckney, House of Representatives, 14 February 1820.”The Founders’ Constitution.  <>.

“Missouri Compromise (1820).”Our Documents. National Archives and Records Administration. <>.


  1. Students could write a brief paper in which they use historical evidence to prove that Madison’s prediction was right (or wrong).
  2. Students could compare Pinckney’s views with those expressed by him (and others) thirty years earlier at the Constitutional Convention.
  3. Students could consider why Pinckney and his fellow Southerners were so deeply committed to slavery as an institution.
  4. Pinckney’s words about the inferiority of Africans, quoted at the beginning of this lesson, could serve as a starting point for a discussion about racial attitudes in eighteenth-century America.


Broussard, James H. The Southern Federalists, 1800–1816. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.
Singer, Charles Gregg. South Carolina in the Confederation. Philadelphia: Porcupine Press, 1976.
Weir, Robert M. “South Carolinians and the Adoption of the United States Constitution.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 89 (April 1988): 73–89.
Williams, Frances Leigh. A Founding Family: The Pinckneys of South Carolina. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.
Zahnhiser, Marvin R. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Founding Father. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.

Annals of Congress, 16th Congress, 2nd Session. <>.
“Charles Pinckney, South Carolina.” U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. <>.
“The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 reported by James Madison: August 22.” The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. <>.
“The Plan of Charles Pinckney (South Carolina), Presented to the Federal Convention, May 29, 1787.” The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. <>.

Selected Works

By Charles Pinckney

  • The Plan Presented to the Federal Convention (1787)

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