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

Louis I. Kahn, FAIA (1901-1974)

I had this thought that a memorial should be a room and a garden. That’s all I had. Why did I want a room and a garden? I just chose it to be the point of departure. The garden is somehow a personal nature, a personal kind of control of nature, a gathering of nature. And the room was the beginning of architecture. I had this sense, you see, and the room wasn’t just architecture, but was an extension of self.”
— Louis Kahn, Excerpt from a lecture given at Pratt Institute.

Louis I. Kahn is widely considered one of the masters in the pantheon of 20th century architects.

His seminal works helped define Modernism: the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Yale Center for British Arts in New Haven, Connecticut, the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, the Capital City in Bangladesh, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and the library at Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. All display his masterful use of bold geometric forms, the skillful manipulation of natural light, and the artistic control of architectural expression to create a richly layered spatial experience.

Kahn revered President Roosevelt. He credited FDR for enabling him to support his family during the early years of his architecture practice through housing and community planning projects that were part of Roosevelt's New Deal programs. Kahn shared Roosevelt's desire to enrich the lives of all people. During design review meetings for Four Freedoms Park, conversations often veered off topic, becoming nuanced discussions of Roosevelt and his policies.

Kahn's design makes perfect use of the triangular shape of the Park's site, emphasizing it, and employing what could be called a forced perspectival parti to draw and focus the visitor's gaze toward the colossal head of Roosevelt at the threshold to the "Room." Underlying Kahn's design is a naval theme, a nod, perhaps, to Roosevelt's love of and connection to the sea, and to the unique location of the site. The Park design is symmetrical, and the construction drawings themselves are dimensioned off a centerline, as is standard in naval architecture. A sketch of an earlier iteration of the design shows a floating, tug and barge-like structure against the skyline of the city.  The final scheme acts as a prow to the island’s "boat."

Jo Davidson, Sculptor (1883-1952)

Jo Davidson is considered one of the most renowned American sculptors of the twentieth century. He spent his career sculpting visionaries like Albert Einstein, Gertrude Stein (whose portrait-sculpture is on permanent display in Bryant Park, New York City), Helen Keller, and Walt Whitman. In December of 1933 Jo Davidson arrived in Washington D.C., by invitation from Sara Roosevelt, to sculpt a bust of President Roosevelt. Davidson worked quickly and completed the final piece in one to two visits. Davidson would go on to complete many sculptures of the president at many different scales and the two men became friends and kept in touch for many years. 

President Roosevelt won me completely with his charm, his beautiful voice and his freedom from constraint. He had an unshakable faith in man…. In Roosevelt’s tremendous relief program, the artist too was included, and the influence of the WPA projects was tremendous.
— Jo Davidson
Jo Davidson with his bust of President Roosevelt at the White House in 1933. 

Jo Davidson with his bust of President Roosevelt at the White House in 1933. 

A few of Davidson's presidents. (Back, lef to right: President Ortiz, Argentina; President Roosevelt, United States; President Vargas, Brazil. Front, left to right: President Morinigo, Paraguary; President Aguirre Cerda, Chile; President Medina, Venezuela; President Lopez Contreras, Venezuela; President Santos, Columbia.)

A few of Davidson's presidents. (Back, lef to right: President Ortiz, Argentina; President Roosevelt, United States; President Vargas, Brazil. Front, left to right: President Morinigo, Paraguary; President Aguirre Cerda, Chile; President Medina, Venezuela; President Lopez Contreras, Venezuela; President Santos, Columbia.)