Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms


On January 16, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood before Congress. The Second World War, which would eventually lure the U.S., was raging across Europe. The President stood to offer a vision like only good leaders are able to do, and must do. He offered a vision for all, a vision to unify, to challenge, to inspire. And his vision was not for some “distant future.”

“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.”

In his speech the President outlined four freedoms he believed were necessary to create a world of security and prosperity for all. These four freedoms were immortalized by the artist Normal Rockwell in a series of paintings. Four paintings portrayed these freedoms in Rockwell’s unmistakable style, as the artist saw them already being expressed in his nation.

In a moment of national division and discord, we need a leader. Someone who can stand with moral integrity and inspiring speech to unify and challenge and inspire. We need artists who can help us see the good, already at work among us. Maybe we need to be reminded what freedoms really are essential to a nation. Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” are a good place to begin.

The first of Roosevelt’s freedoms is the “freedom of expression.” The Bible dares us to believe the spoken word is creative and powerful. “In the beginning, God SAID…”There is no more primal act than speech – and which can be creative or destructive. The first “word” of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights guarantees “the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble…”

The second freedom is the “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way.” The First Amendment also guarantees the freedom of religion (to worship, or not, as one chooses). The third freedom is “freedom from want… economic understandings that will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants.” Finally, FDR offered the “freedom from fear” – especially in the reduction of armaments that threaten the annihilation of the masses, if not the planet itself.

We like to call our nation the “land of the free,” but are we? We are told almost daily that the free press is the “enemy of the people.” Journalists are demonized at home and assassinated abroad. Is there anything more important than the right to free expression?

Recent polls report U.S. worship attendance at an all-time low. Some would suggest this is just the result of the freedom of (from) religion, but we would do well to ask ourselves what becomes of a nation that disavows belief, and comes to worship only its own success, its own “freedoms.”

Ironically, to be the most prosperous nation the world has ever known, we are hardly free from want. The number of school children in need of weekend nutritional snack bags continues to rise as the gap between the rich and the poor increases. We justify obscene salaries for executives and entertainers and turn a blind eye to those in need. In another direction, the marketing of our materialism creates insatiable want. The more you have, the more you want. It never ends.

And, freedom from fear? I have never known a time that people were more afraid. And I have never known a time that our so-called leaders used fear as a more powerful tool to mislead the people. As to Roosevelt’s original concern for the increase of armaments, surely he could not have even imagined today’s proliferation of arms. Even before large increases in the last two years, the United States spent more on its defense than the next eight nations – combined. These armaments have made us more secure? We are less afraid today? 

To each of Roosevelt’s four freedoms he appends the final phrase – “everywhere in the world.” Leadership means helping the people see beyond themselves, to see that until all are free, none is free, to see that our “success” and “security” depend on the expressions of freedom “everywhere in the world.”

That kind of world, a world made secure and prosperous by the freedoms of speech and worship, freedom from want and fear, is more accessible today than it was in 1941, but we need leaders, and artists, to help us see.


(Dr. Russ Dean is a graduate of Clinton High School. He and his wife, Rev. Amy Jacks Dean, also a CHS graduate, are co-pastors of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte.)

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