William Pinkney

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William Pinkney
Williampinkney (1).jpg
United States Senator
from Maryland
In office
December 21, 1819 – February 25, 1822
Preceded by Alexander Hanson
Succeeded by Samuel Smith
United States Envoy to Russia
In office
January 13, 1817 – February 14, 1818
President James Madison
James Monroe
Preceded by John Quincy Adams
Succeeded by George W. Campbell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1815 – April 18, 1816
Preceded by Alexander McKim
Succeeded by Peter Little
7th United States Attorney General
In office
December 11, 1811 – February 9, 1814
President James Madison
Preceded by Caesar Rodney
Succeeded by Richard Rush
United States Minister to the United Kingdom
In office
April 27, 1808 – May 7, 1811
President Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
Preceded by James Monroe
Succeeded by Jonathan Russell (Acting)
3rd Attorney General of Maryland
In office
Governor Robert Bowie
Preceded by Luther Martin
Succeeded by John Thomson Mason
Mayor of Annapolis
In office
Preceded by James Williams
Succeeded by Allen Quynn
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1791 – November 1, 1791
Preceded by Benjamin Contee
Succeeded by John Mercer
Personal details
Born (1764-03-17)March 17, 1764
Annapolis, Province of Maryland, British America
Died February 25, 1822(1822-02-25) (aged 57)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Ann Rodgers
Signature William Pinkney's signature

William Pinkney (March 17, 1764 – February 25, 1822) was an American statesman and diplomat, and was appointed the seventh U.S. Attorney General by President James Madison.


William Pinkney was born in Annapolis in the Province of Maryland. His home was on the banks of the Severn River, in view of the Chesapeake Bay.[1]

Pinkney attended King William school. His teacher was a Mr. Brefhard. Although he left school at the age of thirteen, his teacher was aware of the young Pinkney's intelligence and gave him private lessons at home.[2]

Pinkney studied medicine (which he did not practice) and law, becoming a lawyer upon admission to the bar in 1786. After practicing law in Harford County, Maryland, he participated in Maryland's state constitutional convention.

Pinkney was an excellent orator who possessed an impressive command of language, and was said to have spoken in a pleasing and articulate manner.[3]

His son, Edward Coote Pinkney, became an accomplished poet.

Political career

In April 1788, Pinkney was elected a delegate to the convention of the State of Maryland, which ratified the United States Constitution, marking the beginning of his political career.[4]

Pinkney served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1788 to 1792 and then again in 1795, and served as a U.S. Congressman from the third district of Maryland in 1791 and from the fifth district from 1815 until 1816. He was mayor of Annapolis from 1795 to 1800. In 1801 he was appointed Attorney general for the District of Pennsylvania, by President Thomas Jefferson[5] and Attorney General of Maryland from 1805 to 1806.

Pinkney and James Monroe served together as co-U.S. Ministers to the Court of St James's in Great Britain 1806 to 1807. President Jefferson asked them to negotiate an end to harassment of American shipping, but Britain showed no signs of improving relations. They negotiated the Monroe–Pinkney Treaty, but it lacked provisions to end impressment and was subsequently rejected by President Jefferson, never going into effect.[6]

Pinkney was Minister Plenipotentiary from 1808 until 1811. He then returned to Maryland, serving in the Maryland State Senate in 1811. In 1811 he joined President James Madison's cabinet as Attorney General. He was a major in the U.S. Army during the War of 1812 and was wounded at the Battle of Bladensburg, Maryland in August 1814. After the War, he served as congressman from the fifth district of Maryland from 1815 to 1816. After serving in Congress he became the U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia from 1816 until 1818, along with a special mission to the Kingdom of Naples.

Pinkney successfully argued many important cases before the Supreme Court, including the landmark case of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), where the right of the U.S. Congress to charter the Bank of the United States was upheld.[7]

Pinkney served as a U.S. senator from Maryland from 1819 until his death in 1822. He is buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.[8]


Writer, critic, and fellow Baltimore lawyer John Neal dedicated eight pages in his 1823 novel Randolph to criticizing William Pinkney. Though written before Pinkney's death, it was published shortly afterward with a footnote explaining that the author acknowledged Pinkney's death but decided to publish the book as originally written anyway.[9] Though Neal referred to him as "the greatest lawyer in America,"[10] he also characterized his speeches as "a compound of stupendous strength; feeble ornament; affected earnestness, and boisterous, turbulent declamation,"[11] concluding that "God never meant William Pinkney for an orator."[12] Neal's insults went as far as to call Pinkney "a notorious sloven" who could be seen "wiping his nose and lips on the sleeve of his coat."[13]

On the basis of these printed insults, Pinkney's son Edward Coote Pinkney challenged Neal to a duel, which Neal refused.[14] The episode likely contributed to Neal's decision to leave Baltimore later that year.[15]

See also



  • Hayes, Kevin J. (2008). The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-530758-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ireland, Robert M. (1986). The legal career of William Pinkney, 1764-1822. Garland, 333 pages.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>  Book
  • Lease, Benjamin (1972). That Wild Fellow John Neal and the American Literary Revolution. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-46969-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Neal, John (1823). Randolph, A Novel. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: For Whom It May Concern.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Pinkney, Reverend William (nephew) (1853). The life of William Pinkney. D. Appleton and Company, New York.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>  e'Book
  • Sears, Donald A. (1978). John Neal. Boston, Massachusetts: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 080-5-7723-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wheaton, Henry (1826). Some account of the life, writings, and speeches of William Pinkney. J. W. Palmer & co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>  e'Book
  • "PINKNEY, William, (1764 - 1822)". Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress. Retrieved March 14, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "William Pinkney, United States statesman". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 14, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Benjamin Contee
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
John Francis Mercer
Preceded by
Alexander McKim
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Peter Little
Political offices
Preceded by
James Williams
Mayor of Annapolis
Succeeded by
Allen Quynn
Legal offices
Preceded by
Luther Martin
Attorney General of Maryland
Succeeded by
John Thomson Mason
Preceded by
Caesar A. Rodney
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: James Madison

Succeeded by
Richard Rush
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
James Monroe
U.S. Minister to Great Britain
Succeeded by
John Quincy Adams
Preceded by
John Quincy Adams
U.S. Minister to Russia
Succeeded by
George W. Campbell
United States Senate
Preceded by
Alexander C. Hanson
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Maryland
Served alongside: Edward Lloyd
Succeeded by
Samuel Smith