The Four Freedoms Speech

The Life, Times, and Vision of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

The relationship of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt began as the courtship of two young people raised in the same elite New York social circle. Over the next four decades, it became something far more unusual.

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Four Freedoms Speech


Listen to the audio excerpt of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 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.”

“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

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.

Louis Kahn

“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.”

Jo Davidson

“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.”