In January of 1941, months before the United States would become officially involved in World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt gave one of his radio addresses.
Roosevelt was an innovator in using mass media to help bring his message to the public. His speech about the banking crises in 1933 was the first time a President had used the power of the radio to speak directly to the American public (in this case to attempt to stop the bank runs which nearly destroyed the nation’s economic system in 1933). That speech would lay the groundwork for the Fireside Chats, 31 radio addresses on a variety of topics, ranging from the New Deal to the War in Europe.
The Four Freedoms speech wasn’t one of those Fireside Chats. It was the official State of the Union Address for 1941. But it nonetheless illustrates Roosevelt’s skill at using the public airwaves to speak to the American public:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms…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.
Roosevelt included two Constitutionally-mandated freedoms (Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Worship) in his speech, and then added two freedoms which he said should be a part of the social contract we have with our fellow Americans. Freedom from Want means that Americans shouldn’t go hungry or be without basic human needs (food, shelter, etc.) – and that a modern society had a responsibility to provide for those in need. Freedom from Fear means that we should live in a country where we don’t have to worry about our safety. Roosevelt went on to say that these weren’t just American values, but should be values available to everyone in the world.
The Four Freedoms would later be illustrated by Norman Rockwell in a series of drawings for the Saturday Evening Post.
The Four Freedoms wasn’t a Thanksgiving speech, but nonetheless we’re thankful this time of year for Roosevelt and his identification of the Four Freedoms.