The World at War

Biography

Cordell Hull

American Statesman
Born: October 2, 1871 Tennessee
Died: July 23,1955 Bethesda, Maryland

     Though his exact birthplace is in dispute (one source gives it as Overton County, another as Star Point, Pickens County) we can be certain he was among the last American politicians who could truthfully claim to have first seen the light of day in a log cabin. His character was every bit as roughhewn as those of two other sons of the Appalachian frontier, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson.

     This son of a lumberjack and moonshiner was an excellent student and gained admission to the Tennessee bar before he was 20. He became a circuit court judge and in 1906 made his first run for Congress winning the seat by 17 votes. The Harding landslide swept this strong advocate of the League of Nations from office in 1920 but two year he regained his old seat and held on to it until 1931 when he entered the Senate. Hull concentrated on tariff reform during his brief Senate tenure which ended in 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt appointed him Secretary of State.

     Hull was influential in gaining Congressional approval for Rooseveltís foreign policies particularly in the areas of trade and Latin American relations. The depression was at its peak and Hullís response was to push for a reversal of the high tariff policies which had produced disastrous effects on American exports. He first broached the subject at an Inter-American Conference in Montevideo in December, 1933 where it was given a favorable response. He was instrumental in the passage of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act by Congress in March 1934. The act led to tariff reduction talks with several of Americaís trading partners before it was replaced by the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) in 1948.

     The Montevideo Conference was also the beginning of Hullís tireless efforts to promote FDRís Good Neighbor Policy which espoused the principle that the American republics should not interfere in each others internal affairs. The Secretaryís initiatives in this area did much to reverse ill will towards the United States that decades of Yankee imperialism had generated in the region. The policy bore fruit when the Latin American leaders voice strong support for Rooseveltís call for a coordinated hemispheric defense against a spill over of the European war at the Havana Conference in 1940. Argentina remained the odd man out preferring to remain neutral and continuing its ties to the Axis powers.

     Japanese demands for a free hand in Asia met with stern opposition the Secretary throughout the prewar era. Hull was a firm advocate of aid to China and greater military preparedness to protect U.S. interests in the Far East.

     The most controversial period of his career came with Americaís entry into World War II. Roosevelt and his state department preferred to place their hopes in persuading Vichy to bring France back into the war on the side of the Allies rather than backing General de Gaulleís Free French movement. Roosevelt developed a visceral dislike for de Gaulle and suspected him of planning a dictatorship. Petain so the reasoning went had been given his powers by the National Assembly and represented a better chance for a future in which the French people would be able to choose their own representatives. The policy proved most unpopular with the press and the American public but Rooseveltís faithful Secretary persued it until he left office.

     At the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers in 1943, Hull obtained a pledge from the Big Four powers for post war cooperation in forming an international organization for the maintainance of peace and security.

     He was offered a chance to be FDRís running mate in the 1944 election but declined in favor of Senator Truman. Hull resigned as Secretary of State shortly after Roosevelt secured his fourth term and left office on November 30, 1944 .

     Hull was awarded in the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his work in fathering the United Nations.

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