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Roosevelt's annual address
to Congress (1941)

The Impact of FDR's Four Freedoms

Four FreedomsOn January 6, 1941, in the first State of the Union address to Congress of his third term in office, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt closed his speech with a description of four essential human freedoms (Audio 1:38)—freedom of speech and expression; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. Roosevelt believed that these freedoms were the basis from which society was formed, and that the duty of protecting and upholding these freedoms in the face of tyranny fell to the United States.

Norman Rockwell's 1943 series of paintings, the Four Freedoms, illustrated the social order for which the war was being fought. Rockwell chose to express the complex ideas of the Four Freedoms through simple, everyday scenes using his Vermont neighbors as models. Freedom of Speech depicts a New England town meeting, where a citizen stands up to express his opinions freely.

Rockwell initially offered the paintings to the government to be used as posters for the war effort, but was rejected. Thus the series was first reproduced in the Saturday Evening Post and only later issued as posters by the Office of War Information. These posters were used as the centerpiece of one of the many war-bond campaigns that raised millions of dollars for the war effort.

Ben Hibbs, editor of the Saturday Evening Post, discussed the Four Freedom's popularity:

Those four pictures quickly became the best-known and most-appreciated paintings of that era. They appeared right at a time when the war was going against us on the battle fronts, and the American people needed the inspirational message which they conveyed so forcefully and beautifully.

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