Charles Cotesworth Pinckney - The First Presidential Candidate to Lose an Election

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney - The First Presidential Candidate to Lose an Election

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney held many important positions throughout the American Revolution.  This article is about his least notable position.

Electoral Problems

The election of John Adams to the presidency revealed a major flaw in the U.S. Constitution.

At the time, presidential elections were simple.  The electors were to cast two votes each.  Whoever received the most votes was President.  Whoever received the second most votes was Vice-President.

Initially, this basically just meant picking who would be George Washington’s backup.  But once Washington left, political parties formed.  Famously, when Adam’s became the second President, the leader of the opposition party (Thomas Jefferson) became his Vice-President.

The Election of 1800

By the election of 1800 the candidates had realized the issue and had, unofficially, chosen running mates.

Adams ran with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

Pinckney’s revolutionary credentials were rock solid.  He led in the American Revolutionary War as a Brigadier General.  He signed the United States Constitution.  George Washington offered Pinckney his choice of being the first Secretary of War or Secretary of State, though he turned both down (these positions would be taken by Henry Knox and Thomas Jefferson, respectively).

Pinckney had also recently served as a Minister to France, where he was involved in the XYZ Affair.  He was one of three American diplomats whom France attempted to illicit bribes from.  They declined and returned home, beginning the ‘Quasi War’ that lasted until Jefferson’s presidency.

More Electoral Problems

Adams and Pinckney, to little surprise, lost the election of 1800.

However, a new issue with elections arose when Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, tied.  

Seeing that the two elections after Washington resigned had serious problems with the Vice-President selection process, Congress needed a solution.  The fix they came up with became the 12th Amendment.

The 12th Amendment changed the voting process from each elector casting two votes of equal weight, they now cast one vote specifically for President and a separate one for Vice-President.

Get Your Tickets

In 1804, Americans witnessed the first Presidential election we might recognize today.  Each party had a two-candidate ticket.

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was the Federalist Party’s nominee for President.  The hope was, as a Virginian, he could draw southern votes away from Jefferson.

The truth was, he couldn’t.

Jefferson was hot off the Louisiana Purchase.  He had also severely reduced government spending.  

These things, coupled with the death of Alexander Hamilton, the Federalist’s leader, gave Pinckney no chance in the election.  He was dominated, winning only two States.

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was the first American to run an unsuccessful Presidential Campaign.

And then he did it again.

In 1808, Pinckney had a better chance.  Jefferson had made some unpopular decisions, notably the Embargo Act.

Unfortunately, despite his extraordinary Founding Father credentials.  Pinckney was the first person to lose a Presidential Campaign, again.


Technically, John Adams was the first person to lose a Presidential Election.  However, since he was already President, Pinckney gets the credit for being the first loser.

While there is no definitive book on the election of 1804, these two recommendations have further details on what I've discussed in this article.  These are not sponsors, just books I trust, though we are an affiliate of Amazon.

Joseph Reed and The Battle of Fort Wilson

Joseph Reed and The Battle of Fort Wilson

Nathaniel Gorham and the Committee of the Whole

Nathaniel Gorham and the Committee of the Whole