A Man for His Era and for Ours: Cordell Hull, Father of the Federal Income Tax
53.1 Cumberland Law Review 41 (2022)
36 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2023 Last revised: 30 May 2023
Date Written: March 16, 2023
An 1891 graduate of Cumberland School of Law, Cordell Hull served our country in countless ways. He served as captain of the Fourth Regiment of the Tennessee Volunteer Infantry in the Spanish- American War, as judge for the fifth judicial circuit of Tennessee, as a member of the Tennessee State House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate, and as United States Secretary of State. President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to him as the “Father of the United Nations.” Hull received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 in honor of his work to establish that body. Hull is less well known for his work to establish another important and enduring institution—the federal income tax. In his 1948 memoir, Hull wrote that he doubted that he would be able to render public service equal to his work to establish the income tax system even if he had two lifetimes. This essay explains why Hull regarded the federal income tax as among his chief contributions. First, it outlines Hull’s personal history, his experiences with his mentor, United States Representative Benton McMillin, and Hull’s efforts to pass the Revenue Act of 1913. Second, it discusses the historical, economic, and political context that motivated Hull to introduce the tax reform that sustained the United States through two world wars and made possible widespread economic prosperity in the twentieth century. Finally, it discusses the original impetus for reform, compares the economic conditions from over 100 years ago to those prevailing today, and outlines what it would take to fulfill Hull’s vision and intentions for the federal tax system and the country in the present.
Keywords: Federal Income Tax, Tax Policy, Tariff, Excise Tax, Tax History
JEL Classification: K34, H27, N11, N12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation