Cordell Hull (October 2, 1871–July 23, 1955) was the longest serving secretary of state in U.S. history. Hull was born in a rented log cabin in Overton County, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains. He was the third of five sons born to William and Elizabeth Riley Hull. Of humble background, Hull was educated by his mother and by an itinerate tutor who would spend two to three months during the winter teaching Hull and other neighborhood children. At fourteen, Hull enrolled at the Montvale Institute in Celina, Tennessee. This was followed by a stint in university and eventually law school, which Hull finished in 1891.
Hull's association with politics began at the age of nineteen when he was elected chairman of the Democratic Party for his county. At twenty-one, Hull entered the state legislature. He then served for a time as a judge, and in 1906 was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Hull kept this seat until 1920, when, along with many of his fellow Democrats, he fell victim to the anti-Wilsonian sentiment that followed World War I and Wilson's drive to involve the United States in the League of Nations. Without a place in Congress, Hull took up the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, a post that he kept until 1924. This gave Hull his first real national exposure, which he used to regain his congressional seat in the 1922 election. For a time, Hull entertained the hope that he might become his party's nominee for president in the 1928 election, but he eventually dropped the idea, resolving instead to run successfully for the Senate two years later.
Hull enjoyed a good reputation among his congressional colleagues, and was widely regarded as a moderate, cautious, and hardworking Democrat who had a knack for bringing antagonists together in a spirit of cooperation. With the exception of his persistent advocacy of free trade, Hull rarely took a stand on controversial issues and in general sought to avoid confrontation. Hull's critics have argued that these characteristics meant that Hull left no real mark as a legislator, and much the same charge was laid against him as secretary of state. But Hull's moderation (particularly his moderate internationalism) and the broad public and party support he enjoyed made him a political asset. Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized this, and when he decided to run for president in 1932, he sought Hull's support. Hull campaigned vigorously for Roosevelt, and was rewarded for his loyalty with a seat in the cabinet as secretary of state, a post he would retain until November 1944.
Hull's memoirs, published in 1948, are littered with references to his frustration over Roosevelt's tendency to act as his own secretary of state, and there is no question that on a wide range of issues, Roosevelt often chose to ignore or bypass Hull. This tendency became even more pronounced during World War II. Hull played little role, for example, in the intimate and almost continuous communication between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Roosevelt. Hull also remained largely outside the summit diplomacy that became the hallmark of the Grand Alliance led by Churchill, Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. But in other areas, Hull did have an impact. During the 1930s, for example, Hull played a significant role in the development of the Good Neighbor Policy, and he is largely responsible for the passage of the 1934 Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, which led to a significant expansion of U.S. trade in the mid to late 1930s. During the war, Hull also became intimately involved in the negotiation of the 1942 Lend-Lease Consideration Agreement, which was designed to obtain trade and other economic concessions from the British as a quid pro quo for Lend-Lease aide, and later he was involved in postwar planning and preparation. With Roosevelt's encouragement, Hull helped engineer U.S. commitment to postwar internationalism and the establishment of the United Nations through his effective involvement in the 1943 Foreign Ministers Conference in Moscow, the 1944 Dumbarton Oaks Conference in Washington, and the 1945 San Francisco Conference, where the United Nations was officially born. In recognition of his key role in the establishment of the UN, Hull was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace in 1945.
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David B. Woolner
Cordell Hull (1871-1955) was an American congressman, secretary of state, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945.
Cordell Hull was born on Oct. 2, 1871, in Pickett County, Tenn. He attended normal school at Bowling Green, Ky., and had a year at the National Normal University at Lebanon, Ohio. He then enrolled in the Cumberland Law School at Lebanon, Tenn., completing a 10-month course in 5 months.
Hull was elected to the Tennessee Legislature at the age of 21, and in 1903 he was appointed to fill an unexpired term as judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the States. In 1906 he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served, with one interruption, until 1931. In 1930, elected to the U.S. Senate, he took special interest in the tariff, consistently advocating freer trade relations for the United States. He authored the income tax law of 1913 and several subsequent tax laws. He was a devoted supporter of Woodrow Wilson and of the League of Nations.
In 1933 President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Hull secretary of state, and Hull served in this office longer than any other incumbent—until 1944. During Roosevelt's first two administrations, Hull's great contribution was his development of the good-neighbor policy, involving the establishment of more cordial relations with Latin America. In 1933, at the conference of Montevideo (Uruguay), he signed a protocol declaring intervention in the affairs of the independent states of the New World illegal; this was strengthened by a new declaration at the Conference of Buenos Aires in 1937. Hull fought vigorously and successfully for freer trade relationships, lower tariff duties, and reciprocal trade arrangements. The cooperation of the Latin American republics during World War II was largely due to his influence.
Hull conducted the negotiations in the developing crisis with Japan in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He took a firm stand against Japanese imperialism, while seeking to avoid actual armed conflict. During World War II Hull's role was less significant, however, for Roosevelt leaned on other advisers. Hull did, however, visit Moscow in 1943, where he won Premier Stalin's assent to the projected United Nations. Hull worked vigorously for the realization of the United Nations, though he resigned from the State Department in late 1944, partly because of failing health. In 1945 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Hull died at Bethesda Naval Hospital on July 23, 1955.
Hull left The Memoirs of Cordell Hull (2 vols., 1948). For his career as secretary of state see Julius W. Pratt, Cordell Hull, 1933-44 (2 vols., 1964). He is discussed in Norman A. Graebner, ed., An Uncertain Tradition: American Secretaries of State in the Twentieth Century (1961). □