Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms
On January 6, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt gave his “Four Freedoms” speech while delivering the State of the Union Address.
By January 1941, World War II had wreaked havoc across the globe. Germany invaded Poland, Belgium, and Holland. Additionally, France had been defeated by a German blitz, leaving England the lone nation against Germany. The Soviet Union invaded Finland, and Japan was ruthlessly battling China.
In America, President Franklin Roosevelt was just elected to an unprecedented third term. Across the nation, Americans did not want to get involved in the war, although the President earnestly tried to convince them that completely ignoring the war was dangerous to other nations as well as America. He knew America would eventually be forced into the war and, more than anything, worried the nation would not be ready.
When President Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941, he stressed the serious nature of the situation and that “at no previous time has American security been as seriously threatened from without as it is today.” He continued to explain that the U.S. must assist the Allied nations in defeating the Axis powers from taking over all of Europe.
President Roosevelt continued with perhaps one of his most famous speeches, saying, “In these future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” Those freedoms are the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God in one’s own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. He concluded his speech stating that, “Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.” Roosevelt’s speech resonated around the world, offering hope to civilians suffering under Nazi oppression.
The following year, Norman Rockwell began a series of four paintings that pictured ordinary Americans in scenes portraying the ideals for which the United States had gone to war. Called The Four Freedoms, the series consisted of Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want.
Unlike much of his other work, these paintings were not designed as illustrations, but as original works of art. More than one million people saw the original paintings in the 16-city tour to promote the sale of war bonds. The tour was so successful that it raised over $130 million for the cause. Publishing the paintings as inside illustrations, The Saturday Evening Post generated an equally impressive response from its readers. The government agencies that had turned the series down when Rockwell offered it to them soon realized their error – these powerful images struck a chord that reverberated around the country.
Click here to watch part of Roosevelt’s speech.
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