Cordell Hull

by Ida Trogstad

Ida is a Norwegian student from Drammen, Norway. She currently studies at ACN and is interested in pursuing an education in civil engineering or engineering physics.

Cordell Hull was born October 2nd 1871, the third of the five sons to William and Elizabeth Hull. He received his law degree from three different schools in Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio and before turning twenty, he started his practice in Celina, Tennessee. In 1933, at the age of 62 and after a long career as a lawyer and a judge, Hull was asked to serve as Secretary of State under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which gave him a great deal of influence in the international market1. Roosevelt nominated Hull for the Nobel Peace Prize, stating that he was the “father of the United Nations”2.

Hull was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945, a decision that was very controversial. Did Hull deserve to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? In order to decide on this matter, the most important question we should ask is, did Hull meet the guidelines provided by Alfred Nobel in his will?

Alfred Nobel wrote that the Peace Prize should be given “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.”3 In order to determine whether Hull was worthy of the prize or not, we can divide Nobel’s words into three requirements.

The first requirement of Alfred Nobel asks if the winner has done “the most or best work for fraternity between nations”. Hull believed economics to be one of the key issues facing all countries, and focused much of his work on international trade. He worked against high tariffs, which he believed was a contributing factor to declining economies, which had led to the great depression in 1930. In 1934, Hull contributed in the passing of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, which gave the president power to adjust tariff levels and negotiate on trade agreements without the prior consent of the congress. This was a measure meant to, amongst other things, help the economy get back on its feet after the downfall it had seen in 19304.

When Gunnar Jahn, the chairman of the Nobel Committee, held the presentation speech on December 10th 1945, he said that Hull was awarded the prize for his work in foreign policy, specifically his efforts to unite nations through trade policies. He stated, “High tariffs are barriers obstructing the development of trade and friendship between nations, thereby becoming barriers also to lasting international peace,”5 which coincides with Nobel’s requirement of the winner creating peace across borders.

Another demand from Alfred Nobel was that the winner of the prize had to be contributing to “the abolition or reduction of standing armies”. In 1933, Hull attended the Seventh Pan-American conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he announced that the U.S. government would invoke the Good Neighbor Policy, a policy that declares, “No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another”6. This policy was meant to emphasize cooperation and trade, rather than military action. This was an attempt from Roosevelt to improve the United States relationship with South American countries7.

The final requirement of Nobel’s will is that the winner shall have done work to promote “the formation and spreading of peace congresses”. During World War II, Hull worked to invalidate the Neutrality Acts, an act that made the United States clearly state their neutrality in foreign wars. He kept working on the United States role in the war, and improving their relationship with the Allies. While the war was still raging in Europe, with the US now on the Allies side, Hull worked on creating an organization with the goal of maintaining peace8. This organization was given the name “Charter of the United Nations”9. Hull served under Roosevelt for eleven years, until 1944 when he retired because of his health. The very next year, the final ratification of the Charter of the United Nations took place8.

One can clearly conclude that Hull did in fact meet the criteria of Alfred Nobel, but is meeting the criteria all one should consider? What emphasis should we put on that which is not covered by them? There was a lot of controversy around Hull receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, primarily because of one particular incident that took place in 1939 when 937 Jewish refugees were sailing from Hamburg to Cuba. The US Coast Guard has posted an article on the subject on their website, as an attempt to clear up any misunderstandings around the incident. They have this to say: Just as the SS St. Louis left Hamburg, the Cuban government changed the immigration laws. They required immigrants to pay 500 pesos upon arrival, and they needed “written approval from the Cuban secretaries of state and labor”10. The Jews aboard were only carrying tourist visas. A small portion of the Jews were allowed to stay, while the rest set sail for the coast of Florida where they were met by a U.S. Navy ship that would not let them dock because of the safety of those on board.

Hull’s role in the matter was that he believed that this was an issue between the Cuban government and the immigrants. Acting according to the Good Neighbor Policy, he did not want the American government to get involved. Also, the immigrants could not legally enter the country on their tourist visas, as they had no return address.10

An article in Time magazine puts more emphasis on Hull’s role in the deciding these Jews’ faith. They state that while the president would be willing to help them, Hull, along with Southern Democrats, threatened to abandon all support for Roosevelt in upcoming elections if the Jews were granted access. Roosevelt did not let the Jews enter the country, and they were sent back to Europe where many of them died in the Holocaust11.

So, who’s telling the true story of Hull’s role in this? One can raise questions on both sources. While one can imagine that the US Coast Guard would try to protect their government and their role in the matter, they do have accurate and well-sourced information. The article from Time magazine, on the other hand, is short and not very detailed, and it does not provide any sources that can back up their story. I have a hard time deciding what to think of Hull’s role in this incident, but I can’t help but think that maybe his role doesn’t matter. Regardless, he was involved and he did not want the Jews to enter the country. Those are facts.

Now, was this the “right” thing to want? I believe that Hull did what he thought was right. I also believe that if he knew what would happen to some of the Jews once they were back in Europe, he would have done something, anything, to help them because I refuse to think that Hull (or anyone who works for peace) would do what he did knowing that some of the immigrants would be killed. Hull’s work in international relations, and his efforts to improve across-border cooperation has made him a deserving Nobel Peace Prize winner.

1“Cordell Hull – Biography”. 7 Feb 2013

2 “Cordell Hull Biography”. 7 Feb 2013

3 “Alfred Nobel’s Will”. 7 Feb 2013

4 “Biographies of the Secretaries of State: Cordell Hull”. 7 Feb 2013

5 “Award Ceremony Speech”. 7 Feb 2013

6 “Franklin D. Roosevelt – Foreign policy”. 7 Feb 2013

7 “Good Neighbor Policy, 1933”. 7 Feb 2013

8 “Cordell Hull”. 7 Feb 2013

9 “The Legacy of Cordell Hull”. 7 Feb 2013

10 “What was the Coast Guard’s role in the SS St. Louis affair, often referred to as ‘The Voyage of the Damned’?”. 7 Feb 2013

11 Phillips, Jak. “Top 10 Nobel Prize Controversies”. Time Magazine 7 Oct 2011. 7 Feb 2013,28804,2096389_2096388_2096379,00.html


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