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January 6 , 1941 - The Four Freedoms

The State of the Union address that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered before the US Congress on January 6, 1941 is famously remembered as the Four Freedoms speech. In this speech, President Roosevelt outlined four basic freedoms that everyone in the world should enjoy: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. A century and a half before, the US Bill of Rights had outlined basic human rights guaranteed to all US citizens. The first two of Roosevelt's 'four freedoms' were covered by the First Amendment, but in his proposal, President Roosevelt significantly presented the idea that other basic rights were equally important, and should be shared not just by Americans, but by the citizens of every nation.

'Freedom from want' addressed the idea that every person had a basic human right to economic security. Access to food, water, shelter and health care were all basic human rights. This concept would later become known as 'human security' in social science and economic development theory and policy.

'Freedom from fear' suggested that peace was also a human right. Society has an obligation to protect individuals from violence in their communities, and the global community has an obligation to protect individual nations from violent aggression by other nations. This issue was particularly relevant as at the time Europe was embroiled in the devastating Second World War after Germany and Japan's aggressive invasions of neighboring nations. It would be 11 months before the United States would enter World War II, and Roosevelt's intention in including this fourth fundamental freedom was to inspire a national moral conviction to help our allies. It was also to promote the idea of creating institutions that would help to maintain a peaceful global community when that current global crisis was resolved. The formation of the United Nations at the end of the war would be a manifestation of this idealistic vision.

Although many in the world at the time were living without any of these freedoms because of World War II, President Roosevelt saw the achievement of a world where all shared these four freedoms as a reasonable goal. "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."

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's passion for the ideals her husband expressed in The Four Freedoms speech was clearly reflected in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights she spearheaded; the four freedoms are included in the preamble, and the Declaration itself expanded and more clearly defined the basic rights to which all people are entitled.

President Roosevelt's speech inspired many cultural manifestations of the ideals he presented. Iconic illustrator Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms paintings were seen by millions in The Saturday Evening Post in 1943 and raised 130 million dollars in war bond sales when the US Treasury Department toured them around the nation. Murals, monuments and parks were created, such as Michael Lenson's mural at the Fourteenth Street School in Newark, New Jersey, and New York City's Four Freedoms Monument in Madison Square Garden and Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. The Four Freedoms Award is presented each year to individuals who have dedicated their lives to these ideals.

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May Peace Prevail On Earth


c.380 BC

Magna Carta


"On Civil Power"

"On The Law
of War and Peace"

Peace of Westphalia


"Two Treatises of Government"

"Social Contract"

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US Declaration of Independence

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US Constitution

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Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

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US Bill of Rights

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