William Pinkney

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Pinkney, William,

1764–1822, American political leader and diplomat, b. Annapolis, Md. Admitted to the bar in 1786, he soon became prominent in state politics. In 1796 he was sent to England as a commissioner to adjust maritime claims, remaining until 1804. Two years later he was sent with James Monroe on a special mission to England to deal with impressment and reparations for ship seizures. Pinkney remained as minister to England (1807–11), but was unsuccessful in settling difficulties between the two countries. He was U.S. Attorney General (1811–14) and fought in the War of 1812, being wounded at Bladensburg (1814). After serving as a U.S. Congressman (1815–16), he was minister to Russia (1816–18). After his return he practiced law, gaining a considerable reputation as a constitutional lawyer; he appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court as counsel for the Bank of the United States in McCulloch v. MarylandMcCulloch v. Maryland,
case decided in 1819 by the U.S. Supreme Court, dealing specifically with the constitutionality of a Congress-chartered corporation, and more generally with the dispersion of power between state and federal governments.
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. He also served (1819–22) in the U.S. Senate.


See biography by his nephew, W. Pinkney (1853, repr. 1969); H. H. Hagan, Eight Great American Lawyers (1923).

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Pinkney, William

(1764–1822) lawyer, diplomat, U.S. representative/senator; born in Annapolis, Md. Forced to leave school because of his poverty, he read law on his own. Admitted to the bar in 1786, he gained a reputation as one of the most talented trial lawyers of his day, noted for his oratory and vanity as well as for hiding his extensive preparations behind a facade of casualness. He spent 16 years abroad—as a commissioner negotiating maritime disputes with Britain (1796–1804) and then as ambassador, first to Great Britain (1806–11) and later to Russia (1816–18). As U.S. attorney general (1811–14), he strongly supported the War of 1812 and was wounded serving with the Maryland militia at the battle of Bladensburg (1814). He served Maryland as a Federalist in the U.S. House of Representatives (1791, 1815–16) and the U.S. Senate (1819–22), where he championed the slave-holding states during the debate that led to the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Almost to the end of his life he argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.