Pierre Samuel Dupont (1739)
It was on this date, December 14, 1739, that French economist and industrialist Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours was born in Paris. The family name is chiefly remembered for the company founded by his son, but the elder Dupont influenced Adam Smith's ideas in the latter's Wealth of Nations during the 1760s with his own writings on the national economy of France, particularly his two-volume Physiocratie (2 vols., 1868). Influential though his Physiocratic School of economics was, Dupont not only drew the attention of Voltaire and Jacques Turgot, but for its criticisms of the king's mishandling of the French economy his writings were suppressed by Louis XV.
Dupont was briefly tutor to Poland's Prince Royal, returned to France under Louis XVI, but he and Turgot were dismissed for criticizing the spending habits of Marie Antoinette. He assisted in the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution, and accepted the French Revolution when it came — becoming elected president of the French National Assembly. But the Terror horrified him and he narrowly escaped execution for supporting only moderate reforms.
Dupont emigrated to America where he had influence with Thomas Jefferson, having aided in the Louisiana Purchase, and his son made a fortune manufacturing gunpowder as E.I. Dupont de Nemours and Company. Dupont died on August 7, 1817, at age 77, after exhausting himself putting out a fire at the powder mills. As Dupont explained in his Philosophie de l'univers (1796), he was a Deist.
Originally published December 2003.
“When a religion is good,” wrote Franklin, “I conceive it will support itself; and when ... its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”