Memoirs of a Secretary of State: Cordell Hull

By David Langbart.

In recent years, we have seen a spate of memoirs by high government officials, many of them controversial.  Among those publications are books by former Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Colin Powell, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and Dean Rusk.  Perhaps the model for all of them is Cordell Hull, at least in the modern era.

Hull’s book, THE MEMOIRS OF CORDELL HULL (The Macmillan Company, 2 volumes) was published in 1948.  He had served as Secretary of State from 1933 to late 1944, the longest tenure of any person ever holding that job.  He entered service at the height of the Depression and resigned, largely due to his health, near the end of World War II and when we see the beginnings of what became the Cold War.

Title page of Cordell Hull memoirs

In any such publication, there is the risk that a former official will want to express opinions or reveal facts that their successors will find inconvenient or consider still sensitive.  Today, there is an institutionalized review process to ensure that former officials do not publish any classified information.  At the time that Hull prepared his recollections, however, no such formal process existed and, as noted in the memorandum that follows, Department of State officials consciously determined that Hull’s published memoirs should not indicate that they had been read by the Department before publication.

The memorandum was prepared by G. Bernard Noble, chief of the Division of Historical Policy Research, and addressed to Under Secretary of State Robert Lovett (the Under Secretary was the second ranking official in the Department).  Noble praised the manuscript but noted the presence of some problematic opinions, especially about former Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, former Soviet ambassador to the U.S. Constantine Oumansky, and Charles De Gaulle.  Noble suggested to the Under Secretary that given the then-current situation with regard to France that Hull be asked to tone down the comments about De Gaulle.  As noted in the marginalia, Lovett did discuss the Department’s concerns with the former Secretary of State and subsequently a Departmental official and Hull’s assistant revised the manuscript before publication.

Source: Memorandum: Memoirs of Cordell Hull, G. Bernard Noble (RE) to the Under Secretary of State, December 9, 1947, file 116/12-947, 1945-49 Central Decimal File (Entry A1 205 H, NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

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