Abstract: Pierre S. du Pont and the Making of an Anti-Prohibition Activist

Ranjit S. Dighe


Although most American business people seem to have taken a passive but approving role in the enactment of national prohibition, a great many changed course during the 1920s and early 1930s and ended up fighting for repeal. This paper examines the motivations of perhaps the most prominent business advocate for repeal, Pierre S. du Pont II. Shortly after joining the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment in the mid-1920s, he took the lead in transforming that group into a well-organized, well-financed propaganda machine for repeal. From various sources, most notably the correspondence of du Pont himself, a multifaceted image of his motivations emerges. The roots of his opposition to Prohibition were partly a cultural cosmopolitanism but mostly a laissez-faire economic conservatism, as intrusive prohibition laws such as those of his home state of Delaware raised the issue of further government encroachment on private activity. An erosion of basic law and order, seen as an inevitable result of passing a sweeping but unenforceable law, was also a major concern. Finally, the often-overblown issue of tax savings from repeal, with liquor taxes substituting for income and other taxes, appears significant as well.