Cordell Hull and the Defense of the Trade Agreements Program, 1934-1940
As in [ 1933] I faced the stupendous problems to be dealt with abroad, it gave me some relief and greater confidence to feel that I was strongly grounded on the fundamental propositions that should govern relations among nations.
CORDELL HULL, 1948
CORDELL HULL, during his quarter century in Congress and then as Secretary of State, centered his approach to foreign policy on the consideration of international commercial relations. The Reciprocal Trade Agreements Program, inaugurated in 1934, was in large measure Hull's creation, and it has been the vehicle of much of American foreign policy during the past two decades. In an evaluation of policies and ideas concerning economic aspects of United States foreign relations in the interwar period, the Trade Agreements Program and its public defense are of high importance.
Here we are concerned primarily with the central strand of the "intellectual history" of the Program--the inclinations and the approach, the mode of analysis and the perspective of Secretary Hull. The purpose of this essay is not to recount the political and economic history of American commercial policy during the years in question, but rather to determine how a distinguished public official considered certain elemental theoretical issues--what economic theories he advanced and how effectively, from the economist's point of view, he formulated them.
Since the first decade of the nineteenth century, the "tariff issue" has been one of the most pervasive elements of American political strife. Supposed differences--which frequently have