President Washington’s confidence in General Pinckney as a diplomat was well founded. Pinckney distinguished himself by his poise in handling his rejection by the Directory and expulsion from France by French foreign minister Talleyrand in January, 1797. Although his attempt to negotiate with the French Republic for a second time as head of a three-man commission, including John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry in September, 1797, was futile, he represented the United States with cool reserve. During what became known as “The XYZ Affair,” French representatives demanded money from the U.S. in an attempt to gain support against Britain. General Pinckney was quoted as replying, “No, no, not a sixpence.”
General Pinckney and his fellow envoys were recalled to the United States in May, 1798, by President Adams, after strained negotiations with the French Republic came to an impasse. Although his tenure as Minister to France might appear unsuccessful, Pinckney’s strength in refusing to be manipulated by the French demonstrated his considerable talents as a diplomat. He returned to the United States a hero. His role as a much admired South Carolinian on the international stage is a fascinating subject for study. I encourage you to seek out books in our library for further reading on the subject.
General Pinckney was president of the Charleston Library Society from 1792-1796 and from 1798-1806. Since the Pinckney/Washington letters were originally conserved in the 1970s, conservation methods have changed. Many of the valuable letters were mounted on Japanese Paper for stabilization by use of some form of paste (sometimes called laminating). Methods today are far more conservative. Thanks to the Cornwell’s grant, the Washington letters were sent to conservators at Joel Oppenheimer, Inc., where they were chemically removed from the paper on which they were mounted, glue residue was removed, paper tears were repaired, and the papers were cleaned and de-acidified.
We owe our sincere thanks to the Pinckney family for their generous donations of Pinckney documents throughout the years. Additionally, we owe a great deal of thanks to Bernard and Judy Cornwell, beloved friends of the Library Society, who generously paid for “re-conservation” of many of the letters exchanged between General Pinckney and President Washington.
Charleston Library Society