Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidents Day: The Four Freedoms

On this Presidents Day, I am offering a remembrance of a president who served in one of the most trying moments of our history. There are a precious few such presidents who met such challenges, and they are especially worthy of our remembrance this day. And allow me to present a speech he gave that changed the world, and some of you are old enough to remember it.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his State of Union Address of 1941 by noting that he was speaking “at a moment unprecedented in the history of the union.” The photo here shows FDR giving that speech in the House of Representatives. 

The President went on to outline the threats to the United States, and in particular the fascist military dictators in Germany, Italy and Japan. The United States was not yet at war, but within the year would be. 

FDR’s speech on Jan. 6. 1941 came with the dire backdrop of worldwide economic depression, an unprecedented economic calamity that reached every corner of the globe. He addressed a nation mired in isolationism, the na├»ve idea that the oceans would protect us and that the horrific threats to people abroad had nothing to do with us. Roosevelt told the Congress and the nation: “I find it unhappily necessary to report that the future and the safety of our country and of our democracy are overwhelmingly involved in events far beyond our borders.”

Roosevelt sketched a practical response to tyranny, and then he went a step further. It was the end of his address that set his words apart as one of the most notable speeches in the history of the American presidency. Roosevelt outlined the principles that became known as “the Four Freedoms.” Here, in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, are the Four Freedoms:

The State of the Union
To the 77th Congress
January 6, 1941
Franklin D. Roosevelt


. . . 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 quicklime 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 and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.


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