Thursday, March 30, 2023

Roberts on Cordell Hull and the Income Tax

Tracey M. Roberts, Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, has posted A Man for His Era and for Ours: Cordell Hull, Father of the Federal Income Tax, which is forthcoming in the Cumberland Law Review:

Cordell Hull (and Spittoon), 1939 (LC)
An 1891 graduate of Cumberland School of Law, Cordell Hull served our country in countless ways. He worked 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 state representative in the Tennessee House of Representatives, as a member of the United States House of Representatives, as a member of 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 subsequently 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 modern income tax. In his 1948 memoir, Hull wrote that he probably would not be able to render public service equal to his work in long fight for enactment of 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— Hull’s efforts leading up to the adoption and ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, and the passage of the Revenue Act of 1913. Second, it discusses the historical, economic, and political context that motivated Hull to introduce the tax reform that not only sustained the United States through the two world wars that followed but made possible widespread economic prosperity in the twentieth century. Finally, it discusses the original impetus for reform, comparing 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.
--Dan Ernst