Cordell Hull Biography

(47th United States Secretary of State)

Birthday: October 2, 1871 (Libra)

Born In: Olympus, Tennessee, United States

Cordell Hull was an outstanding US politician, who received the 1945 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the creation of the United Nations. The longest serving US Secretary of State, he began his career in politics as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives. Eventually, he was elected to the US House of Representative, representing the Fourth Tennessee District for 22 years, out of which he served a member of the House Ways and Means Committee for 18 years. Appointed Secretary of State in 1933, he played a vital role in the success of the Good Neighbor Policy and called for a reversal of high tariff barriers, which in turn enhanced international trade. The Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act he helped to pass set the pattern for tariff reduction on a most-favored-nation basis, becoming a precursor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.  However, he is best remembered for his role in the formation in the United Nations, being described by Franklin Roosevelt as the Father of the United Nations for his contributions.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Senator Hull

Died At Age: 83


Spouse/Ex-: Rose Frances Whitney (m. 1917–1954)

father: William Paschal Hull

mother: Mary Elizabeth Hull (née Riley)

siblings: Orestes, Roy, Sanadius, Wyoming

Born Country: United States

Nobel Peace Prize Political Leaders

political ideology: Democratic

Died on: July 23, 1955

place of death: Washington, D.C., United States

U.S. State: Tennessee

Notable Alumni: Cumberland University

More Facts

education: Cumberland School of Law, Cumberland University

awards: Nobel Peace Prize

Childhood & Early Years

Cordell Hull was born on October 2, 1871, in a rented log cabin in Olympus, a small community, at that time a part of the Overton County of the US State of Tennessee.

His father, William Paschal Hull, was a farmer, who later went into lumber business. While it was initially rumored that his mother, Mary Elizabeth Hull née Riley, was part Cherokee Indian, it was later revealed that she was a descendant of great revolutionary heroes like Isaac Riley and Samuel Wood.

Born third of his parents five sons, Cordell Hull had two elder brothers, Orestes, born in 1868, and Sanadius, born in 1870. He also had two younger brothers; Wyoming, born in 1875, and Roy, born in 1881. Among the five boys, only Cordell Hull showed significant inclinations towards education.

He began his education at a one-room school established by his father at nearby Willow Grove. During this period, young Cordell took part in a debate and impressed by his oratory, his father decided to give him best education.

Later as his father began moving around within the mountain section, establishing new farms at various places, he too changed schools. Possibly in 1886, he finally entered Montvale Academy at Celina, Tennessee. Later, he also studied at the Normal School at Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Not yet seventeen, Cordell Hull gave his first political speech, speaking in favor of a lower tariff during the presidential campaign of 1888. Shortly, he entered the National Normal University at Lebanon, Ohio. There he scored very high marks, especially in debating, elocution and rhetoric.

In 1890, he entered Cumberland School of Law after passing a rigid entrance examination.  In the same year, still in his teens, Hull was elected chairman-of the Democratic County Committee for Clay County and also a delegate to the Democratic State Convention. In 1891, he earned his degree in jurisprudence.

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Early Career

In 1891, not yet 20, Cordell Hull was admitted to the Tennessee State bar and began practicing law in Celina, a town in Tennessee, where he had his early education. Concurrently, he continued with his political activities and although underage he began campaigning for his candidature in the state legislature.

In 1893, not many months after he turned 21, Cordell Hull entered the Tennessee House of Representatives, serving in this capacity till 1897. In 1898, when the Spanish-American War broke out, he temporarily abandoned his political career to serve as a captain in the Fourth Tennessee Regiment.

On his return from the war in 1899, he once again began to practice law, this time in Gainesboro, Tennessee. In 1903, he was appointed judge of the Fifth Judicial District, remaining in this position till 1907, meanwhile earning the nickname, Judge.

In 1907, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives, serving in this capacity from 1907 to 1921 and again from 1923 to 1931, a total of eleven terms. In the interval, he served Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

An expert in commercial and fiscal policies, he was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee for eighteen years. Authoring the first Federal Income Tax Bill (1913), the Revised Act (1916), and the Federal and State Inheritance Tax Law (1916) were some of his contributions during this period.

Secretary of State

In 1931, Cordell Hull was elected to the US Senate; but resigned in March 1933 after being appointed Secretary of State by President Franklin Roosevelt. In June, he headed the delegation to London Economic Conference.

In November 1933, he had his first big success as the Secretary of State when he won the trust of the Latin American diplomats at the seventh Pan-American Conference. It eventually led to the foundation for the Good Neighbor Policy.

In December 1933, he won presidential support for his proposal to reverse high tariff barrier at the inter-American Montevideo Conference and in the following year had Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act passed through the Congress. Armed with that, he subsequently negotiated with numerous countries, resulting in an enhanced international trade.

Also in 1934, he rejected the Japanese Monroe Doctrine, which would have allowed Japan a free hand in matters partaking to China. Anticipating trouble, he announced that USA would maintain its interest in the Pacific, concurrently declaring a policy of military preparedness and friendship towards China.

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Continuing with Good Neighbor Policy, he attended the Pan-American Conference at Buenos Aires in 1936, at Lima in 1938 and a special foreign ministers’ conference at Havana in 1940. By then, the Second World War had broken out.

In 1939, as Jews began to flee Europe, he advised the President to refuse German ocean liner SS St. Louis, carrying 936 asylum seekers, permission to dock, resulting in the death of many Jews. In 1940, he gave strict orders to every USA consulates, forbidding them to issue visas to Jews.

To discourage the Axis powers, he announced all kinds of help to Western democracies. Simultaneously, he started advocating rearmament, warning US military to remain prepared for sudden attack long before Japanese bombing at Pearl Harbor.

In the autumn of 1941, he started negotiating with Japan, urging the island country to abandon its policy of military conquests of the mainland, standing firm behind China.  However, it failed and USA entered the War in December.

For World Peace

Throughout the war, Cordell Hull kept in contact with the Allies, attending several of their policy meetings. However, moving beyond the present scenario, he created the Advisory Committee on Postwar Foreign Policy in February 1942 at the suggestion of Leo Pasvolsky and Norman Davis.

Composed of both Republicans and Democrats, the Advisory Committee argued for an international structure rather than regional groups. The group also suggested that it should be endowed with sufficient legislative, economic, and military power so that it can prevent further conflicts.

Sometime in early 1943, Hull became a member of Informal Political Agenda Group, eventually taking up much of the Advisory Committee's work. Shortly, the State Department under his aegis began to prepare a blueprint for an international organization, drafting a document entitled Charter of the United Nations.

The Charter of the United Nations became the basis for the proposal submitted by the United States at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, held between August 21 and October 7, 1944. This was probably the last conference he attended as the Secretary of State.

On November 30, 1944, he resigned from his post of Secretary of State due to ill health.  However, that did not prevent him from attending the United Nations Conference, held in San Francisco, USA, from 25 April to 26 June 1945 as a member of and senior adviser to the American delegation.

Major Works

Remembered for his role in establishing the United Nations, Cordell Hull began working on the idea of creating a postwar peace-keeping body in 1943, obtaining a four-nation pledge to this effect during the 1943 Moscow Conference. The Charter of the United Nations drafted under his guidance, eventually became the basis of the US proposal.

Awards & Achievements

In 1945, Cordell Hull was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his indefatigable work for international understanding and his pivotal role in establishing the United Nations."

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1917 at the age of 45, Cordell Hull married Rose Frances Whitney, a widow belonging to an Austrian-Jewish family. The couple did not have any children.

He died on July 23, 1955, at his home in Washington, D.C., at the age of 83.

Located mostly in Tennessee, structures like Cordell Hull Dam and Cordell Hull Lake on the Cumberland River near Carthage; Cordell Hull Birthplace State Park, near Byrdstown; Cordell Hull Highway; The Cordell Hull State Office Building in Nashville etc. carry on his legacy to this day.


In January 1948, around three years after his retirement, Cordell Hull published his two-volume memoirs, The Memoirs of Cordell Hull.

See the events in life of Cordell Hull in Chronological Order

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