Franklin Delano Roosevelt
"The Four Freedoms" (1941)
Message to Congress January 6, I94I
I address you, the Members of the Seventy-seventh Congress,
at a moment unprecedented in the history of the Union. I use the
word "unprecedented" because at no previous time has
American security been as seriously threatened from without as
it is today.
Since the permanent formation of our government under the
Constitution, in I789, most of the periods of crisis in our history
have related to our domestic affairs. Fortunately, only one of
these-the four-year War Between the States-ever threatened our
national unity. Today, thank God, one hundred and thirty million
Americans, in forty-eight states, have forgotten points of the
compass in our national unity.
It is true that prior to I9I4 the United States often had
been disturbed by events in other continents. We had even engaged
in two wars with European nations and in a number of undeclared
wars in the West Indies, in the Mediterranean, and in the Pacific
for the maintenance of American rights and for the principles
of peaceful commerce. But in no case had a serious threat been
raised against our national safety or our continued independence.
What I seek to convey is the historic truth that the United
States as a nation has at all times maintained dear, definite
opposition to any attempt to lock us in behind an ancient Chinese
wall while the procession of civilization went past. Today, thinking
or our children and of their children, we oppose enforced isolation
for ourselves or for any other part of the Americas.[...]
[...] Every realist knows that the democratic way of life
is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the
world-assailed either by arms, or by secret spreading of poisonous
propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discord
in nations that are still at peace.
During sixteen long months this assault has blotted out the
whole pattern of democratic life in an appalling number of independent
nations, great and small. The assailants are still on the march,
threatening other nations, great and small.
Therefore, as your President, performing my constitutional
duty to "give to the Congress information of the state of
the Union," 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.
Armed defense of democratic existence is now being gallantly
waged in four continents. If that defense fails, all the population
and all the resources of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia
will be dominated by the conquerors. Let us remember that the
total of those populations and their resources in those four continents
greatly exceeds the sum total of the population and the resources
of the whole of the western hemisphere-many times over. [...]
[...] Just as our national policy in internal affairs has
been based upon a decent respect for the rights and the dignity
of all our fellow-men within our gates, so our national policy
in foreign affairs has been based on a decent respect for the
rights and dignity of all nations, large and small. And the justice
of morality must and will win in the end. [...]
[...] Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking
about the social and economic problems which are the root cause
of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the
For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a
healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our
people of their political and economic systems are simple. They
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider
and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost
sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern
world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political
systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these
Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age
pensions and unemployment insurance.
We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
We should plan a better system by which persons deserving
or needing gainful employment may obtain it.
I have called for personal sacrifice. I am assured of the
willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call.
A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in
taxes. In my budget message I shall recommend that a greater portion
of this great defense program be paid for from taxation than we
are paying today. No person should try, or be allowed, to get
rich out of this program; and the principle of tax payments in
accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our
eyes to guide our legislation.
If the Congress maintains these principles, the voters, putting
patriotism ahead of pocketbooks, will give you their applause.
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 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 beginnings 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 co-operation 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 or keep them. Our strength is our unity of
To that high concept there can be no end save victory.