Cordell Hull was born in Overton, Tennessee, in 1871. He graduated from Cumberland University in 1891 and set up as a lawyer.
In 1903 he became a judge and four years later was elected to the House of Representatives. He specialized in financial matters and helped draft the federal income tax law (1913) and federal estate and inheritance tax law (1916).
Hull had two spells in the House of Representatives (1907-21 and 1923-31) before becoming a member of the Senate in 1931. Two years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Hull as his Secretary of State. He held the post for the next eleven years.
Hull's autobiography The Memoirs of Cordell Hull was published in 1948.
Cordell Hull died in 1955.
(1) In January 1941, Cordell Hull informed Lord Halifax about his thoughts on the government in Japan.
There is a real possibility of danger that cannot be overlooked by any of the peaceful countries. This is that the military group in control in Japan, by a sudden, unannounced movement, could any day send an
expedition to the Netherlands East Indies and Singapore. Or they could, inch by inch and step by step, get down to advanced positions in and around Thailand and the harbor of Saigon, Indo-China. This would leave the peacefully disposed elements in Japan, including the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, to express their amazement and to say that such actions were without their knowledge or consent
(2) Cordell Hull wrote about negotiations with the Hideki Tojo government in 1941.
Little good as we had had to expect from the Konoye Cabinet we had even less to expect from the Cabinet headed by Premier General Hideki Tojo after October 17. Tojo, who had been Minister of War, continued even as Premier to be an active Army officer. He was a typical Japanese officer, with a small-bore, straight-laced, one-track mind. He was stubborn and self-willed, rather stupid, hard-working, and possessed a quantity of drive.
The new Foreign Minister, Shigenori Togo, was a typical Japanese Foreign Office official, a good technician in his craft but also rather narrow in his views and unable to gain a broad perspective.
The new Cabinet almost immediately stated to us with emphasis, through Togo in Tokyo and Nomura in Washington, that they wanted to continue conversations with us and reach an agreement for peace in the
Pacific. They sought to impress upon us that they supported the assurances of peaceful intentions so often conveyed to us by the Konoye Cabinet.
This was on the surface, of course. Other developments were ominous. Japanese military movements continued in Manchuria and Indo-China. The anti-American campaign went on in the Nipponese press. Navy and Army officers made inflammatory speeches. The director of the naval intelligence section of Imperial Headquarters said in a public address, "The Imperial Navy is itching for action, when needed." And Ambassador Grew cabled me on October 25 information from a reliable informant that it was only as a result of pressure from the Emperor that the Tojo Cabinet became committed to an attempt to conclude the conversations with us successfully.
(3) In his memoirs Cordell Hull wrote about negotiations that took place between the United States and Japan just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
The President now had before him two draft messages, which I had sent him during his absence. One was a message to Congress, which Secretaries Stimson and Knox had helped me prepare, advising it of the imminent dangers in the situation. The other was a message to Emperor Hirohito of Japan, appealing for peace.
This second message had been under discussion since October among those of us concerned with the Far East. In my memorandum to the President accompanying these drafts, I suggested: "If you should send this message to the Emperor it would be advisable to defer your message to Congress until we see whether the message to the Emperor effects any improvement in the situation. I think we agree that you will not send the message to Congress until the last stage of our relations, relating to actual hostility, has been reached."
I had two reasons for this last comment. One was that the message to Congress could contain very little that was new without giving the Japanese leaders material with which to arouse their people against us all the more. The other was that the powerful isolationist groups still existing in Congress and in the United States might use it to renew their oft repeated charges of "warmongering" and "dragging the nation into foreign wars." The Japanese military could then have played up the situation as evidencing disunity in the United States, thus encouraging the Japanese to support their plans for plunging ahead into war.
I also was not in favor of the message to the Emperor, except as a last-minute resort, and I so informed the President. I felt that the Emperor, in any event, was a figurehead under the control of the military
Cabinet. A message direct to him would cause Tojo's Cabinet to feel that they were being short-circuited and would anger them. Besides, I knew that the Japanese themselves did not make use of such means as a direct Presidential message. Normally they did not shift from a bold front to one of pleading until the situation with them was desperate. They would therefore regard the message as our last recourse and a sign of weakness.
(4) Cordell Hull went to see President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 6th December 1941.
Shortly after three o'clock I went to the White House, where I talked with the President and others for forty minutes. Mr. Roosevelt was very solemn in demeanor and conversation. The magnitude of the surprise
achieved by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor was already becoming evident But neither he nor any of us lost faith for a moment in the ability of the United States to cope with the danger.
We had a general discussion preparatory to a conference that the President decided to hold that evening with Stimson, Knox myself General Marshall, Admiral Stark, and other principal advisers. We discussed in a tentative way the many different steps that would have to be taken, when and by whom. The President early determined to go to Congress with a message asking for a declaration of a state of war with
(5) Anthony Eden, Memoirs: The Reckoning (1965)
My first meeting with President Roosevelt was at dinner on March 13th, Harry Hopkins and Winant being the only other guests. While the talk was general, I gained the impression, as I think I was meant to do, that the President intended to do all he could to keep the United States in the forefront after the war. Unquestionably Roosevelt had the power, for he was head of a mighty country which was coming out into the arena. He would be able to alter the whole pattern of its policy, guiding it from isolation to an active part in world affairs.
My next conversation, with Mr. Cordell Hull two days later, was less encouraging about where we might be led. We talked for two hours, with the emphasis on French problems. The Secretary of State persisted in his dislike of General de Gaulle and showed scant sympathy for the Free French.
(6) Anthony Eden, letter to Winston Churchill (12th March, 1943)
Mr. Hull unburdened himself of his grievances, which were in the main that, while he had been pursuing a policy of maintaining relations with Vichy in which His Majesty's Government agreed, he had been subject to much criticism in the British press and by the Fighting French; the mud batteries had been turned on against him. I explained along the usual lines that while there had been agreement as to the desirability of American representation at Vichy, the British people felt neither sympathy nor admiration for Petain and Vichy dominion. Nothing either you, or I, or anybody else, could say would alter this.
(7) Anthony Eden, diary (20th August, 1943)
More work after luncheon and then talk for more than two hours with old Hull. Most of it was about recognition of French Committee. I failed to make any impression and we both got quite heated at one time when I told him we had to live twenty miles from France and I wanted to rebuild her so far as I could. This was a first, though small, step. He retorted by accusing us of financing de Gaulle, with implication that our money had been used to attack him. Hull, for a long time past. I like the old man but he has an obsession against Free French which nothing can cure. I eventually suggested we each take our own course.