Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Pinckney, 29 November 1791

From Thomas Pinckney

Charleston 29th. Novr. 1791


If the nomination and appointment mentioned to me in your favor of the 6th of this Month should take place I will endeavor to execute the duties of the mission to the best of my ability.

In thus explicitly declaring my acquiescence in the honor conferred by this mark of confidence I fear I have rather complyed with my desire of being useful, than consulted the means of being so; and I trust I shall be acquitted of affected diffidence when I add that a doubt of my fitness for the charge was the only consideration which could have influenced me to withhold my service: but a recollection of the discernment manifested in the appointments already made under the Constitution, my ignorance of the particular objects of the mission, and the very encouraging manner in which you express your confidence in my executing the trust reposed in me with propriety, have convinced me that I ought not in a business of this importance, to be determined only by my own feelings.

As I am but just arrived in Charleston and the mail will be immediately closed, I will defer till the next opportunity, entering into some particulars on what I had intended to write; only adding that a long absence from Europe prevents me from being a proper judge of the pecuniary arrangements but that I have an unbounded confidence that they will be adequate to the purpose.—With sentiments of the most perfect respect and Esteem I have the honor to be Sir Your most obedient & most humble Servant,

Thomas Pinckney

RC (DNA: RG 59, DD). Recorded in SJL as received 14 Dec. 1791.

On the following day Pinckney explained that the particulars to which he alluded “relate to the eventual preparations for my departure”; that he would be unable to leave South Carolina for at least two months because “I have not only affairs of my own to settle but have the concerns of several near connections as well as the business of the Estates of some deceased friends to put into a train of arrangement”; and that he hoped to sail for England from Philadelphia or New York so that “I should thereby have the benefit of conferring with you on the subjects to be committed to my charge; for altho’ instructions are given in writing and mine I am certain will be ample and explicit, yet I conceive that personal communications, especially to one who has not been in the habits of public negociation, must be of considerable advantage” (Pinckney to TJ, 30 Nov. 1791, RC in DNA: RG 59, DD; endorsed by TJ as received 14 Dec. 1791 and so recorded in SJL). At the same time he wrote a brief note informing TJ that with “Two vessels intending to sail at the same time for Philadelphia I avail myself of the opportunity of complying as fully as possible with your request of an immediate answer” (Pinckney to TJ, 30 Nov. 1791, RC in DNA: RG 59, DD; recorded in SJL as received 14 Dec. 1791).

Upon receiving TJ’s letter, Pinckney described his motives for deciding to serve as American minister to Great Britain at greater length in a letter to his friend and political supporter, Edward Rutledge: “Your favor by Jack was delivered to me a couple of hours ago, covering a letter from Mr. Jefferson informing me (agreeably to your Northern intelligence) that he had it in charge from the President to ask whether it would be agreeable that he should nominate me to the Senate as minister plenipotentiary to the court of London. Your departure from town on Saturday has precipitated my determination, upon less consideration than I ought to give it; but my desire to give you and my brother [Charles Cotesworth Pinckney] information of it has induced me to think as fully on the subject as the shortness of the time will admit, and the result is my acquiescence in the appointment. Almost every private consideration appears to be against this determination, but every public one (my inability excepted) in favor of it. In short, all my plans, projects, private interest, and indolence must give way to my sense of the importance of such an office being in the hands of one of our way of thinking” (Thomas Pinckney to Edward Rutledge, 24 Nov. 1791, Charles C. Pinckney, Life of General Thomas Pinckney [Boston and New York, 1895], p. 99–101; see also Pinckney to Washington, 29 Nov. 1791; RC in DLC: Washington Papers, and duplicate in DNA: RG 59, DD).

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