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 freedoms of every person to worship god in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want…everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear…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.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 6, 1941

Four freedoms speech

On January 6, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his eighth State of the Union address, now known as the Four Freedoms speech. The speech was intended to rally the American people against the Axis threat and to shift favor in support of assisting British and Allied troops. Roosevelt's words came at a time of extreme American isolationism; since World War I, many Americans sought to distance themselves from foreign entanglements, including foreign wars. Policies to curb immigration quotas and increase tariffs on imported goods were implemented, and a series of Neutrality Acts passed in the 1930s limited American arms and munitions assistance abroad. 

In his address, Roosevelt called for the immediate increase in American arms production, and asked Americans to support his "Lend-Lease" program, which gave Allies cash-free access to US munitions. Most importantly, Roosevelt announced his vision for the world, "a world attainable in our own time and generation," and founded upon four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

These freedoms, Roosevelt declared, must triumph everywhere in the world, and act as a basis of a new moral order. "Freedom," Roosevelt declared, "means the supremacy of human rights everywhere."


Legacy of the Four Freedoms

Roosevelt's call for human rights has created a lasting legacy worldwide. These freedoms became symbols of hope during World War II, adopted by the Allies as the basic tenets needed to create a lasting peace.  Following the end of the war, the Four Freedoms formed the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   

The Declaration was drafted over two years by the Commission on Human Rights, chaired by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. It was adopted on December 10, 1948 and is one of the most widely translated documents in the world. Drawing on Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech, the Declaration calls for all governments and people to secure basic human rights and to take measures to ensure these rights are upheld.   

The Declaration has inspired numerous international human rights treaties and declarations,  and has been incorporated into the constitutions of most countries since 1948. 

Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

“WHERE, AFTER ALL, DO UNIVERSAL RIGHTS BEGIN? IN SMALL PLACES, CLOSE TO HOME (...) UNLESS THESE RIGHTS HAVE MEANING THERE, THEY HAVE LITTLE MEANING ANYWHERE.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt