Philosopher, Educator, Politician, Businessman: The Extraordinary Global Legacy of Pierre Samuel du Pont

Several months ago, I received a phone call from a professor on the Faculty of Law at the University of Paris. He was calling to inform me that his university is planning a 2017 academic conference in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the death of du Pont family patriarch, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours. This conference, he explained, will draw scholars from across the globe and will invite a critical reappraisal of the intellectual contributions and legacy of this extraordinary figure of the French Enlightenment.

One of the most influential business and political leaders in France, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours ultimately fled to the U.S., settling with his family on the Brandywine.

I was delighted to have this news, as I have felt for some time that du Pont de Nemours’s life and career as a philosopher, educator, political figure and diplomat has never received sufficient scholarly attention.

Even the passionate historians among us may not know that this polymath, who adeptly navigated the end of the Ancien Régime, the Terror, and the Napoleonic era, was an influential mentor and counselor to famous historical actors on both sides of the Atlantic. His physiocratic economic theories, for example, were an intellectual resource for Adam Smith, while Thomas Jefferson sought his advice on the development of a public education system in Virginia.

And speaking of Jefferson, let’s not forget the crucial role that du Pont de Nemours played as a behind -the-scenes broker of the Louisiana Purchase.  Across oceans, political divides and academic disciplines, this gifted thinker was a true innovator – always eager to experiment in the service of better living.

In 2017, Hagley will join the University of Paris in its celebration of this unique historical figure and thinker; our guides will place special emphasis on du Pont de Nemours in their presentations on the du Pont family and in Eleutherian Mills, while our library staff will share important archival materials with the Paris conference organizers. When you visit Hagley, I encourage you to learn more about the man whom Jefferson praised as “one of the very great men of the age.”

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About the Contributor

David Cole

David Cole

David Cole is the executive director of Haley Museum & Library, which showcases collections that document the unfolding history of American business, technology, and innovation.

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