Pierre Samuel du Pont was born in Paris on December 14, 1739. In his long career as a political economist, he published books on economic reform, advised several kings of France and leaders of other European nations, participated in the French Revolution, befriended Thomas Jefferson and was instrumental in the Louisiana Purchase. He died at his son's home in Eleutherian Mills, Delaware, on August 6, 1817.
Early Life and Work
Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours was born in Paris on December 14, 1739, to Samuel du Pont, a watchmaker, and Anne de Montchanin. He was trained in watchmaking but he also received an education in the humanities.
In 1766 du Pont was married to Nicole Charlotte Marie Louise Le Dée de Rencourt, with whom he had two sons, Victor Marie and Éleuthère Irénée. By the mid-1760s he had begun to make a name for himself with his writings about economics, including publications about taxation and the agricultural grain trade.
These achievements brought du Pont to the attention of well-known economists François Quesnay and Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, who became his mentors. Quesnay was the founder of Physiocracy, a reform-minded economic philosophy that influenced du Pont for the rest of his career. The central ideas of Physiocracy were a belief that natural law governed society; the promotion of agriculture as society's primary means of production; and facilitation of low tariffs and free trade.
In the 1770s du Pont began to take part in European affairs as well as French domestic politics. In addition to serving as an economic advisor to Louis XVI, he was a consultant to the king of Sweden and the Margrave of Baden, and he helped to organize a new system of national education in Poland. Called back to France, he contributed to negotiations for the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution and established the United States' independence from Great Britain in 1783. In 1786, he helped to shape a major trade agreement between France and England. He was rewarded for these activities with titles and decorations, and his income enabled him to purchase an estate in Nemours, France.
The French Revolution
The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 brought about a series of changes in du Pont's life and career. He was initially active in the revolt against the monarchy and he served in the new governing body of the National Assembly. However, his politics were too moderate for the radical reformers who soon took power, and he was imprisoned several times between 1794 and 1797.
In 1799, du Pont emigrated to the United States with his second wife, Françoise Robin Poivre, and his two sons. In the United States he associated with notable figures in American politics and economics, including Thomas Jefferson. He and Jefferson remained friends and correspondents for the rest of their careers.
Late Years and Legacy
In 1802, du Pont returned to France, which was then under the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Living in Paris, he returned to his political career. He served in the Paris Chamber of Commerce and he helped to negotiate the French side of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
However, the political winds of change continued to blow, and du Pont assisted with the banishment of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814. He was made councilor-of-state by Louis XVIII. However, when Napoleon returned from exile the following year, du Pont promptly left France.
Returning to the United States in 1815, du Pont joined his son, Éleuthère Irénée, in Delaware. Irénée, as he was known, had founded a gunpowder factory at a site he called Eleutherian Mills, near Wilmington, Delaware; this company was the origin of the du Pont chemical manufacturing empire.
Du Pont died in Delaware on August 6, 1817. He is still considered significant for his writings on economics and for his role in key political events of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
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