U.S. #908 – FDR personally selected this stamp design to show the world why the U.S. entered the war.  Click the image to buy.

Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms

On January 6, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt gave his “Four Freedoms” speech while delivering the State of the Union Address.

By January 1941, World War II had wreaked havoc across the globe.  Germany invaded Poland, Belgium, and Holland.  Additionally, France had been defeated by a German blitz, leaving England the lone nation against Germany.  The Soviet Union invaded Finland, and Japan was ruthlessly battling China.

U.S. #1284 – There’s a Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island dedicated to the speech.  Click the image to buy.

In America, President Franklin Roosevelt was just elected to an unprecedented third term. Across the nation, Americans did not want to get involved in the war, although the President earnestly tried to convince them that completely ignoring the war was dangerous to other nations as well as America.  He knew America would eventually be forced into the war and, more than anything, worried the nation would not be ready.

When President Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941, he stressed the serious nature of the situation and that “at no previous time has American security been as seriously threatened from without as it is today.”  He continued to explain that the US must assist the Allied nations in defeating the Axis powers from taking over all of Europe.

Monaco #C16 pictures Roosevelt with his stamp collection.  Click the image to buy.

President Roosevelt continued with perhaps one of his most famous speeches, saying, “In these future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.”  Those freedoms are the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God in one’s own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.  He concluded his speech stating that “Our strength is our unity of purpose.  To that high concept, there can be no end save victory.”  Roosevelt’s speech resonated around the world, offering hope to civilians suffering under Nazi oppression.

U.S. #2840 – Norman Rockwell’s dramatic depictions of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.  Click the image to buy.

The following year, Norman Rockwell began a series of four paintings that pictured ordinary Americans in scenes portraying the ideals for which the United States had gone to war. Called The Four Freedoms, the series consisted of Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want.

US #2840 – Set of four Four Freedoms First Day Covers.  Click the image to buy.

Unlike much of his other work, these paintings were not designed as illustrations, but as original works of art.  More than one million people saw the original paintings in the 16-city tour to promote the sale of war bonds.  The tour was so successful that it raised over $130 million for the cause.  Publishing the paintings as inside illustrations, The Saturday Evening Post generated an equally impressive response from its readers.  The government agencies that had turned the series down when Rockwell offered it to them soon realized their error – these powerful images struck a chord that reverberated around the country.

U.S. #1950 – Since 1982 the Roosevelt Institute has issued Four Freedoms Medals to people who further these ideals.  Click the image to buy.

Click here to watch part of Roosevelt’s speech.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. I love these articles. I print them out and it’s a great way to use my mom’s duplicates from her collection. These articles are a wonderful service enjoyed by many. Why have the “Click the image to buy” on every picture…..now sticking out in bright blue instead of black as when this first appeared in December. Really distracts from the article, printed out multiple times on each page. I would hate to think it’s all about $$$$. If this information is indeed needed, one small sentence w/each article I would think would suffice.

    1. Thank you for your comment. We regularly receive questions from This Day in History readers asking how to buy the stamps or learn more about them. We consistently include the message to help these collectors.

      1. Thank you for you’re time. I do love to read your articles and again what a wonderful, unique service you provide, but I still think having the message numerous times w/each article is excessive and distracting for those of us that like to print out your pages. A one time sentence with each article would still be sufficient for those that need this information and would not leave the impression that it’s all about making $$$ off your articles.

    1. I totally agree with you, Jeff; we have now the worst president in American history! Thanks, Mystic, for the history lesson, and I look forward to order more stamps from you.

  2. By January 1941 Britain was not “alone against Germany” . Canada had mobilized for war in 1939 and was feeding Britain and sending thousands of men to help across the Atlantic.

    1. And do not forget about Australia. Their contribution to WWII is overlooked by most. Justifiably a proud nation who gave its all.

  3. President Roosevelt pretty well summed it up with those human rights. The world is far from achieving this goal. It is si interesting that there are sties behind these stamps that those who used them probably thought little of when they licked and placed on envelopes.

  4. Many don’t realize that, despite Roosevelt’s efforts to alert the American people, just how unprepared the U.S. was for the coming war. The American army was about the size of Finland’s. The Congress had initiated a draft, but when it came up for renewal in 1941, it passed in the House or Representatives by one single vote. If it had failed, America would have been even more unprepared for entry in World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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