Four Freedoms

views updated May 21 2018

Four Freedoms

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's State of the Union Address


By: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Date: January 6, 1941

Source: Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. "The Four Freedoms: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, State of the Union Address." Congressional Record. 44 (January 6, 1941).

About the Author: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was born in 1882 in New Hyde Park, New York. During his youth, he played sports and remained active, but at age thirty-nine, he contracted poliomyelitis (polio). The disease caused him to loose the full use of his legs, and throughout the rest of his life, he used a wheelchair and crutches for mobility. Upon his 1932 election to the presidency, he became the first United States President with a physical disability, which he took great steps to conceal. FDR led the United States through the Great Dperession and World War II (1941–1945). He won the presidency for four consecutive terms—the only president to do so—and he died on April 12, 1945 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Franklin D. Roosevelt is also the fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. president from 1901 to 1909.


President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his Four Freedoms Speech as a State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress on January 6, 1941. In this speech, he outlined a plan for the United States to sustain economic recovery and to help Europe (particularly Great Britain) in war. The Great Depression of the 1930s, with the Stock Market Crash of October 1929 frequently noted as the catalyst for the nation's and world's economic crisis, sent the United States economy into a downward spiral. President Herbert Hoover initially asked the country to rely upon volunteerism to stabilize the economy, but Roosevelt took a drastically different approach after taking office in 1933. Roosevelt set up a series of New Deal programs that brought federal funding and aid to local communities. These moneys then established jobs and economic infrastructures that enabled individuals to earn a living, communities to maintain and establish economic growth, and with time, they allowed the national economy to rebuild itself. These types of programs, federal aid and help while letting individuals work and rebuild on their own, are synonymous with FDR's presidency. Thus, his Four Freedoms Speech established the Lend-Lease Bill with Great Britain and stated the Four Freedoms.

The Lend-Lease Bill provided that the United States would lend destroyers, and other weapons, to Great Britain on the condition that the United States could lease military bases from Great Britain. The Lend-Lease plan developed from the Neutrality Acts (beginning in 1935), which said the United States would not intervene in European conflicts. But, as per the agreement, the United States would sell weaponry and raw material to belligerent countries on a cash and carry basis. With the start of World War II in September 1939, the United States took a stand of neutrality. The intent of the Lend-Lease Bill was to help Great Britain—the war greatly drained its resources—but the United States could not sign a bill directly aimed at Great Britain because the United States had taken a stand of neutrality. Hence, the bill said the United States and Great Britain were leasing and loaning property without the intent for war. The Lend-Lease Bill reflects Roosevelt's New Deal liberalism by helping without being hands on and giving aid too freely, and the core of this speech—the Four Freedoms—reflected the nation and the international community.

The four key points of the speech based themselves on key ideals of the American Constitution and on human desires. The first two points of the speech utilized the first and second amendments (freedom of speech and expression and freedom of religion), and the last two freedoms proposed alleviating the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. These elements of the speech reflected the American psyche and the turmoil of the Great Depression. Americans had not previously experienced such economic devastation, and they were not used to asking for help. In reaction to the Labor Struggles of the 1920s and the economic crisis of the 1930s, many Americans firmly believed in isolationism. This belief also grew from the aftermath of World War I when economic theories like The Merchant of Death Thesis said that big business had lured Americans into fighting so that they could make money. Hence, FDR knew that he had to rally the nation into supporting a European conflict, and with the Neutrality Acts and then the Lend-Lease Bill he was easing the American public's mind into the conflict. The insertion of the Four Freedoms then allowed FDR to bring the hopes and desires of Americans into an international arena, comparing them to U.S. Allies, and showing that Americans and non-Americans desire the same rights.


Let us say to the democracies, "We Americans are vitally concerned in your defense of freedom. We are putting forth our energies, our resources and our organizing powers to give you the strength to regain and maintain a free world. We shall send you in ever-increasing numbers, ships, planes, tanks, guns. That is our purpose and our pledge."

In fulfillment of this purpose we will not be intimidated by the threats of dictators that they will regard as a breach of international law or as an act of war our aid to the democracies which dare to resist their aggression. Such aid is not an act of war, even if a dictator should unilaterally proclaim it so to be.

When the dictators are ready to make war upon us, they will not wait for an act of war on our part. They did not wait for Norway or Belgium or the Netherlands to commit an act of war.

Their only interest is in a new one-way international law which lacks mutuality in its observance and, therefore becomes an instrument of oppression.

The happiness of future generations of Americans may well depend on how effective and how immediate we can make our aid felt. No one can tell the exact character of the emergency situations that we may be called upon to meet. The nation's hands must not be tied when the nation's life is in danger.

We must all prepare to make the sacrifices that the emergency—as serious as war itself—demands. Whatever stands in the way of speed and efficiency in defense preparations must give way to the national need.

A free nation has the right to expect full cooperation from all groups. A free nation has the right to look to the leaders of business, of labor and of agriculture to take the lead in stimulating effort, not among other groups but within their own groups.

The best way of dealing with the few slackers or trouble makers in our midst is, first, to shame them by patriotic example; and if that fails, to use the sovereignty of government to save government.

As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone. Those who man our defenses and those behind them who build our defenses, must have the stamina and the courage which come from unshakable belief in the manner of life which they are defending. The mighty action that we are calling for cannot be based on a disregard of all the things worth fighting for.

The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America. Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world.

There is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement.

As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

I have called for personal sacrifice. I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call.

A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in taxes. In my Budget Message I shall recommend that a greater portion of this great defense program be paid for from taxation than we are paying for today. No person should try, or be allowed to get rich out of this program; and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our eyes to guide our legislation.

If the congress maintains these principles, the voters, putting patriotism ahead of pocketbooks, will give you their applause.

In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called "new order" of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception—the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change—in a perpetual, peaceful revolution—a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions—without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.


The United States officially entered World War II in December 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and it became a central leader in forming the United Nations. The United Nations, an extension of President Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations following World War I, established a council for nations to settle their disputes. More importantly, the United Nations had the support of the world's major powers (the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China), and it set up a system for embargos and penalties against countries that did not comply to international guidelines of warfare and human respect.

After the initial postwar period, the United Nations continued to develop and refine its role with world affairs. Since its creation, the United Nations has helped enforce such international laws as the Treatment of Prisoners of War (adopted August 1949 and entered into force in October 1950) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted December 1948). First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt used the Four Freedoms Speech as her inspiration and catalyst for the drafting and signing of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and the United Nations has parts of the Four Freedoms speech as a central element of its directive.

The Four Freedoms Speech also inspired four paintings by American artist Norman Rockwell. The Saturday Evening Post published this series of paintings in 1943 on February 20, February 27, March 6, and March 13. The Office of War Information also used the Rockwell paintings in their campaign to sell war bonds for World War II, and the four paintings are attributed with selling about $130,000,000 in war bonds.

The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute pays yearly accolades to individuals who commit their lives to the ideals of the Four Freedoms. Some recipients of the Four Freedoms Award are Coretta Scott King (wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.) and Mikhail Gorbachev (former President of the Soviet Union who worked with U.S. President Ronald Reagan to help end the Cold War).



Dallek, Robert. Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945: With a New Afterword. Oxford University Press, 1995.

Kimbell, Warren B. The Juggler: Franklin Roosevelt as a Wartime Statesman. Princeton University Press, 1991.


Johnson, M. Glen. "The Contributions of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt to International Protection for Human Rights." Human Rights Quarterly. 9 (1987): 19-48.

Web sites

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum with Marist College and IBM. "Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum." 〈〉 (accessed April 22, 2006).

Four Freedoms

views updated May 23 2018


FOUR FREEDOMS. After his election to a third term in 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began to espouse more strongly the cause of Great Britain and its allies in World War II. An indication of this came in a major speech before Congress on 6 January 1941. In that speech, he urged a world founded upon four essential human freedoms: (1) freedom of speech and expression, (2) freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, (3) freedom from want, and (4) freedom from fear. Two of these freedoms—from fear and want—are mentioned as desirable objectives in the Atlantic Charter.

Charles S.Campbell/a. g.

See alsoForeign Policy ; International Law ; World War II .

Four Freedoms

views updated May 23 2018

Four Freedoms Expression of war aims in World War II enunciated by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his State of the Union address (January 1941). They were: freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear. These aims were echoed in the Atlantic Charter (1941).