"I have never faltered in my belief that enduring peace and the welfare of nations are indissolubly connected with friendliness, fairness, equality and the maximum practical degree of freedom in international trade."

- C.H., 1937 1

Cordell Hull was the longest serving Secretary of State in American history, under the longest serving President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Hull's tenure lasted from 1933 to 1944. His career as Secretary of State was typified by the effects of the Great Depression; his free trade ideals played a part in the restoration not only of the American economy, but also those of many of her trading partners. His belief that dialogue and common ideals and goals could seed peace and understanding between nations led to his greatest achievement - his role in the setting up of the UN. This role was so pivotal, FDR dubbed him "the Father of the United Nations." For this work, Hull received the 1945 Nobel Peace Prize. Forced to resign from government by poor health, Cordell Hull died on 23rd July, 1955. He was interred at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.


Born on 2nd October, 1871, Cordell Hull was the son of a lumber merchant, William, and his part-Cherokee wife, Elizabeth. The family home was a log cabin in the Appalachian foothills near Byrdstown, Pickett County, in eastern Kentucky. William Hull built the small elementary school where a young Cordell would, unlike his four brothers, show a keen interest in furthering his education. Recognising this, his father employed tutors to aid his studies. Hull's education was continued at Montvale Academy at Celina, Tennessee and the Normal School at Bowling Green, Kentucky. While at Montvale, one of his teachers was the brother of state governor McMillen. His classes were an influence on Hull's growing interest in politics and public affairs.

Passing the bar exam after only one year's study, he became actively involved in politics, first becoming Chairman of the Clay County Democrats, then being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1892. He was twenty-one, the youngest person ever to reach that office.

This period of public service was interrupted by his volunteering to fight in the Spanish-American war, where he was a captain in charge of the Fourth Tennessee Regiment in Cuba. Looking at his later diplomatic work, it is likely that this experience of Latin American culture, and the military role America too often played in it, was real food for thought for a man still developing his political personality.

Returning to Tennessee in 1899, he again practised law, being appointed a district judge in 1903. His work on a ten county circuit continued until his election to the federal House of Representatives in 1907. In 1931, Hull was elected to the upper house, although he resigned this position upon becoming Secretary of State.


His career in the legislature was characterised by an interest in commercial and fiscal matters. The adoption of income tax in 1912 serves as a particular example of his liberal predisposition. The legislation itself, taking a proportion of personal income from every American, may not seem particularly designed to appeal to liberal inclinations. However, the system that had been in place took revenue indirectly, taxing not only consumer luxuries but also commerce and trade, through tariffs. Hull's argument was that the protectionist tariffs served to the benefit of the elite at the expense of the general population. While this view was based on domestic observations, his viewpoint on tariffs was to broaden to international agreements following the First World War.

In his own words:

"Believing as I have that the best antidote against war is the removal of its causes rather than its prevention after the causes once arise, and finding that trade retaliation and discrimination in its more vicious forms have been productive of bitter economic wars which in many cases have developed into wars of force, I introduced the resolution in the House of Representatives during the early part of last year which would provide for the organization of an international trade-agreement congress the objects of which should be to eliminate by mutual agreement all possible methods of retaliation and discrimination in international trade." 2


Upon his nomination as Secretary of State, aspersions were cast by five respected Democrat Senators, headed by Raymond Moley. Their main points of dissent were that Hull had little knowledge of foreign affairs and was adamant to the point of idealism with regard to trade tariffs. On hearing this, Roosevelt was reported to have said, "Well, you tell the senators I'll be glad to have some fine idealism in the State Department." 3

Secretary of State Hull's first major engagement was the World Monetary and Economic Conference held in London, July 1933. This conference had been originally convened by Roosevelt's White House predecessor, Herbert Hoover, in his 'lame duck' months. Its stated aims were to steady world currency exchanges and reach agreement on trade tariffs. Mid-Depression, Hull's free trade position was in contrast to the vast majority of the delegates, who advocated protectionism to bolster their domestic industries. However, this was very much Hull's own position and not that of the Roosevelt administration. Midway through the round of negotiations, Moley was dispatched to London to inform Hull that Roosevelt would was not prepared to jeopardise his New Deal by agreeing a set dollar exchange rate. This effectively undermined Hull's position and his delegation was forced, somewhat chagrined, to leave.

Following this rather ignominious retreat, Hull's first year turned to success as he headed the American delegation to the seventh Pan-American Conference. This was held in Montevideo, Uruguay in November. At this meeting of foreign ministers, Hull forwarded America's "Good Neighbor Policy". This was an understanding that the United States would reduce its political and military influence in the Americas. Also drafted at this conference was a convention which included a clause to the effect that no nation had the right to influence the internal or external affairs of another by any means other than diplomatic. To put this in context, in 1922 14 of the 20 Latin American nations had been controlled by US-backed leaders, occupied by US marines, or both. By 1935, troops had been withdrawn from Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Further to these agreements, the US sat on its hands in 1930-31 during revolutions in Cuba, Brazil and Panama.

These countries were also key beneficiaries of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act. Between 1934 and 1938, Hull and his negotiators agreed reciprocal treaties with 18 countries, mainly in Latin America. The treaty was also extended to Britain, which ratified it in 1938. The treaty reduced American tariffs to the signatory by 50%, on condition of reciprocity. Despite his earlier disowning of Hull's tariff-lowering suggestions, Roosevelt backed this Act through Congress. This was probably because by 1934 the dollar had been valued more competitively against world currencies.

The United Nations

Hull's most enduring legacy is the organisation of the United Nations. His fundamental belief was that international disputes could be best solved by an international organisation, dedicated to mediating and mending differences. He formed the bipartisan Advisory Committee on Post-war Foreign Policy to discuss possible frameworks for international post-war cooperation.

The first use of the term 'United Nations' was on 1st January, 1942, when the 26 countries engaged in hostilities against the Axis acceded to the Atlantic Charter, under the title "Declaration of the United Nations". Indeed, the final Charter of the United Nations closely resembles the original eight points of the Atlantic Charter, agreed by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill off the Newfoundland coast in August 1941. In a joint declaration with British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden in Quebec, 1943, Hull called for "a general international organization, based on the principle sovereign equality of all nations."

In August, 1943, the State Department had drafted proposals for the responsibilities of the planned body, in accordance with the proposals of the Advisory Committee. In October that year, Hull took these drafts to Moscow for the Foreign Ministers Conference, attended by the Big Four (the UK, the US, China and the USSR). This meeting resulted in the Moscow Declaration which recommended an organisation to work for world peace.

Organisations which today make up various arms of the United Nations began to be set up by the four powers at this time: the Food and Agricultural Organization (May 1943), the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (November 1943), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (April 1944), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (July 1944), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (November 1944). 4

Hull met Soviet, British and Chinese representatives at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington in September, 1944 to draft the charter of the United Nations. It was this meeting that set down the conventions of the General Assembly and the Security Council. Two months later, Hull's deteriorating health meant he was forced to resign from office. The Charter of the United Nations was ratified by 50 nations in San Francisco on 24th October, 1945.

In his reply to Hull's letter of resignation, Roosevelt wrote: "When the organization of the United Nations is set up, I shall continue to pray that you as the Father of the United Nations may preside over its first session. That has nothing to do with whether you are Secretary of State or not at that time, but should go to you as the one person in all the world who has done the most to make this great plan for peace an effective fact. In so many different ways you have contributed to friendly relations among nations that even though you may not remain in a position of executive administration, you will continue to help the world with your moral guidance." 5


1 Speech as Secretary of State, 1937. Quoted in: Who was Cordell Hull?, Cordell Hull Institute. http://www.cordellhullinstitute.org/role/who.html
2 From a speech to Congress, September 10, 1918. Cordell Hull: A Biography, Harold B. Hinton. Quoted in: Nobel Peace Prize presentation speech, Gunnar Jahn. http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1945/press.html
3 Biography of Cordell Hull, Carl Wright. http://payson.tulane.edu/cordellhull/prod04.htm
4 United Nations, US State Department. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/wwii/17604.htm
5 Correspondence. Quoted in: Nobel Peace Prize presentation speech, op. cit.


Jahn, Gunnar. Nobel Peace Prize presentation speech, Nobel e-Musuem, http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1945/press.html
Willoughby, Doug and Susan. The USA 1917-45, Heinemann 2000.
Wright, Carl. Biography of Cordell Hull, http://payson.tulane.edu/cordellhull/prod04.htm
Cordell Hull - Biography. Nobel e-Museum, http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1945/hull-bio.html
Cordell Hull. Waging Peace, http://www.wagingpeace.org/articles/peaceheroes/cordell_hull.htm
"Cordell Hull", Encyclopedia Britannica.
"United Nations", Encyclopedia Britannica.
"The Atlantic Charter". Reprinted by the Avalon Project, http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/wwii/atlantic.htm
"Charter of the United Nations". About the United Nations, http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/
The Moscow Declaration: October 1943". Reprinted by the Avalon Project, http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/wwii/moscow.htm
United Nations, US State Department. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/wwii/17604.htm

This write-up is part of Everything Quests: The Nobel Prize winners.