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Thursday, January 05, 2006

FDR Gives His Four Freedoms Speech, January 6, 2006

Today in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered the annual State of the Union address to Congress. This presentation, now known as the Four Freedoms speech, would become not only one of the most famous State of the Union addresses in American history, but one of the most famous speeches of the 20th century.

By January, 1941, most people in the United States were firmly set against American involvement in the Second World War. US Navy warships were escorting cargo ships sailing between US and British ports and American industry was helping supply the weapons riding aboard those ships, but that was the limit of American involvement in the new European conflagration. Nothing short of a direct attack on America herself was going to sway the public’s opinion that two European wars in 25 years was too many.

We don’t know what was going through President Roosevelt’s mind as he prepared to make his speech on the night of January 6th, buy I can help but think that he was trying to prepare the American people for the inevitable. If the United States joined the war, it would require sacrifices as great or greater than this country had ever known. To make such a sacrifice, the nation would have to see the struggle as not just a war against other nations’ interests, but a crusade against tyranny.

The entire Four Freedoms speech is long; I will not recite it here. But the last few paragraphs contain the core of the President’s meaning: the coming struggle would not be just to secure the freedoms of Americans, but for all people regardless of their nationality. This I present to you now:

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 or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

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