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longest serving Secretary of State in U.S. history
Cordell Hull was born in Pickett County, Tennessee, on October 2, 1871, the third of the five sons of William and Elizabeth (Riley) Hull. He attended a one-room school in Willow Grove, then the Montvale Academy at Celina, Tennessee, the Normal School at Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the National Normal University at Lebanon, Ohio. He received his law degree from Cumberland University at Lebanon, Tennessee, in 1891, after which he practiced law in Celina.
Hull gave up his law practice upon being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, where he served from 1893 to 1897, except for a brief term of service as Captain of the Fourth Tennessee Regiment in the Spanish-American War. He then practiced law in Gainsboro, Tennessee, until 1903, when he was appointed judge of the Fifth Judicial District. He held this position until entering the U.S. House of Representatives in 1907.
Aside from one two-year term (1921-1923), Hull served in the U.S. House until 1931. During his tenure in that body, he was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee for eighteen years, the leader of the movement for low tariffs, the author of the first Federal Income Tax Bill (1913), the Revised Act (1916), and the Federal and State Inheritance Tax Law (1916), as well as the drafter of a resolution providing for the convening of a world trade agreement congress at the end of World War I.
Hull left the House for the U.S. Senate in 1931, but resigned upon his appointment as Secretary of State by President Franklin Roosevelt on March 4, 1933. In July 1933, he headed the American delegation to the Monetary and Economic Conference in London, which ended in failure. That failure was followed by triumph later that year, when Hull became the first sitting Secretary of State to attend the International Conference of American States, at which he announced that the U.S. Government would henceforth observe a policy of non-intervention in the affairs of its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. In 1934 he negotiated reciprocal trade agreements with numerous countries, lowering tariffs and stimulating trade. From 1936 on, foreseeing danger to peace in the rise of the dictators, he advocated rearmament, pled for the implementation of a system of collective security, supported aid short of war to the Western democracies, condemned Japanese encroachment into Indo-China, and warned all branches of the U.S. military to prepare for simultaneous, surprise attacks at various points. He spent most of the World War II years preparing a blueprint for an international organization dedicated to the maintenance of peace. Ill health forced Hull to resign on November 30, 1944. His twelve years as Secretary of State remain the longest tenure in that office in U.S. history.
After leaving the Secretary of State's office, Hull served as a member of and senior adviser to the American delegation to the United Nations Conference in San Francisco in 1945. For his efforts in creating the United Nations, Hull was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945. He died in Washington, D.C., on July 23, 1955.
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This page was last updated on May 18, 2017.