Four Freedoms – FDR’s State of the Union Address

Franklin D Roosevelt

Date: January 6, 1941


Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Seventy-seventh Congress: 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 1789,
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 1914 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 clear, definite opposition, to any attempt to lock us in
behind an ancient Chinese wall while the procession of civilization went past. Today,
thinking of our children and of their children, we oppose enforced isolation for
ourselves or for any other part of the Americas.

That determination of ours, extending over all these years, was proved, for example,
during the quarter century of wars following the French Revolution.

While the Napoleonic struggles did threaten interests of the United States because
of the French foothold in the West Indies and in Louisiana, and while we engaged
in the War of 1812 to vindicate our right to peaceful trade, it is nevertheless
clear that neither France nor Great Britain, nor any other nation, was aiming at
domination of the whole world.

In like fashion from 1815 to 1914 – ninety-nine years – no single war in Europe
or in Asia constituted a real threat against our future or against the future of
any other American nation.

Except in the Maximilian interlude in Mexico, no foreign power sought to establish
itself in this Hemisphere; and the strength of the British fleet in the Atlantic
has been a friendly strength. It is still a friendly strength.

Even when the World War broke out in 1914, it seemed to contain only small threat
of danger to our own American future. But, as time went on, the American people
began to visualize what the downfall of democratic nations might mean to our own

We need not overemphasize imperfections in the Peace of Versailles. We need not
harp on failure of the democracies to deal with problems of world reconstruction.
We should remember that the Peace of 1919 was far less unjust than the kind of “pacification”
which began even before Munich, and which is being carried on under the new order
of tyranny that seeks to spread over every continent today. The American people
have unalterably set their faces against that tyranny.

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 Australia 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.

In times like these it is immature – and incidentally, untrue – for anybody to brag
that an unprepared America, single-handed, and with one hand tied behind its back,
can hold off the whole world.

No realistic American can expect from a dictator’s peace international generosity,
or return of true independence, or world disarmament, or freedom of expression,
or freedom of religion – or even good business.

Such a peace would bring no security for us or for our neighbors. “Those, who would
give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither
liberty nor safety.”

As a nation, we may take pride in the fact that we are softhearted; but we cannot
afford to be soft-headed.

We must always be wary of those who with sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal preach
the “ism” of appeasement.

We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the
wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests.

I have recently pointed out how quickly the tempo of modern warfare could bring
into our very midst the physical attack which we must eventually expect if the dictator
nations win this war.

There is much loose talk of our immunity from immediate and direct invasion from
across the seas. Obviously, as long as the British Navy retains its power, no such
danger exists. Even if there were no British Navy, it is not probable that any enemy
would be stupid enough to attack us by landing troops in the United States from
across thousands of miles of ocean, until it had acquired strategic bases from which
to operate.

But we learn much from the lessons of the past years in Europe – particularly the
lesson of Norway, whose essential seaports were captured by treachery and surprise
built up over a series of years.

The first phase of the invasion of this Hemisphere would not be the landing of regular
troops. The necessary strategic points would be occupied by secret agents and their
dupes – and great numbers of them are already here, and in Latin America.

As long as the aggressor nations maintain the offensive, they – not we – will choose
the time and the place and the method of their attack.

That is why the future of all the American Republics is today in serious danger.

That is why this Annual Message to the Congress is unique in our history.

That is why every member of the Executive Branch of the Government and every member
of the Congress faces great responsibility and great accountability.

The need of the moment is that our actions and our policy should be devoted primarily
– almost exclusively – to meeting this foreign peril. For all our domestic problems
are now a part of the great emergency.

Justas 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.

Our national policy is this:

First, by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship,
we are committed to all-inclusive national defense.

Second, by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship,
we are committed to full supportof all those resolute peoples, everywhere, who are
resisting aggression and are thereby keeping war away from our Hemisphere. By this
support, we express our determination that the democratic cause shall prevail; and
we strengthen the defense and the security of our own nation.

Third, by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship,
we are committed to the proposition that principles of morality and considerations
for our own security will never permit us to acquiesce in a peace dictated by aggressors
and sponsored by appeasers. We know that enduring peace cannot be bought at the
cost of other people’s freedom.

In the recent national election there was no substantial difference between the
two great parties in respect to that national policy. No issue was fought out on
this line before the American electorate. Today it is abundantly evident that American
citizens everywhere are demanding and supporting speedy and complete action in recognition
of obvious danger.

Therefore, the immediate need is a swift and driving increase in our armament production.

Leaders of industry and labor have responded to our summons. Goals of speed have
been set. In some cases these goals are being reached ahead of time; in some cases
we are on schedule; in other cases there are slight but not serious delays; and
in some cases – and I am sorry to say very important cases -we are all concerned
by the slowness of the accomplishment of our plans.

The Army and Navy, however, have made substantial progress during the past year.
Actual experience is improving and speeding up our methods of production with every
passing day. And today’s best is not good enough for tomorrow.

I am not satisfied with the progress thus far made. The men in charge of the program
represent the best in training, in ability, and in patriotism. They are not satisfied
with the progress thus far made. None of us will be satisfied until the job is done.

No matter whether the original goal was set too high or too low, our objective is
quicker and better results. To give you two illustrations:

We are behind schedule in turning out finished airplanes; we are working day and
night to solve the innumerable problems and to catch up.

We are ahead of schedule in building warships but we are working to get even further
ahead of that schedule.

To change a whole nation from a basis of peacetime production of implements of peace
to a basis of wartime production of implements of war is no small task. And the
greatest difficulty comes at the beginning of the program, when new tools, new plant
facilities, new assembly lines, and new ship ways must first be constructed before
the actual materiel begins to flow steadily and speedily from them.

The Congress, of course, must rightly keep itself informed at all times of the progress
of the program. However, there is certain information, as the Congress itself will
readily recognize, which, in the interests of our own security and those of the
nations that we are supporting, must of needs be kept in confidence.

New circumstances are constantly begetting new needs for our safety. I shall ask
this Congress for greatly increased new appropriations and authorizations to carry
on what we have begun.

I also ask this Congress for authority and for funds sufficient to manufacture additional
munitions and war supplies of many kinds, to be turned over to those nations which
are now in actual war with aggressor nations.

Our most useful and immediate role is to act as an arsenal for them as well as for
ourselves. They do not need man power, but they do need billions of dollars worth
of the weapons of defense.

The time is near when they will not be able to pay for them all in ready cash. We
cannot, and we will not, tell them that they must surrender, merely because of present
inability to pay for the weapons which we know they must have.

I do not recommend that we make them a loan of dollars with which to pay for these
weapons – a loan to be repaid in dollars.

I recommend that we make it possible for those nations to continue to obtain war
materials in the United States, fitting their orders into our own program. Nearly
all their materiel would, if the time ever came, be useful for our own defense.

Taking counsel of expert military and naval authorities, considering what is best
for our own security, we are free to decide how much should be kept here and how
much should be sent abroad to our friends who by their determined and heroic resistance
are giving us time in which to make ready our own defense.

For what we send abroad, we shall be repaid within a reasonable time following the
close of hostilities, in similar materials, or, at our option, in other goods of
many kinds, which they can produce and which we need.

Let us say to the democracies: “We Americans are vitally concerned in your defense
of freedom. We are putting forth our energies, our resources and our organizing
powers to give you the strength to regain and maintain a free world. We shall send
you, in ever-increasing numbers, ships, planes, tanks, guns. This is our purpose
and our pledge.”

In fulfillment of this purpose we will not be intimidated by the threats of dictators
that they will regard as a breach of international law or as an act of war our aid
to the democracies which dare to resist their aggression. Such aid is not an act
of war, even if a dictator should unilaterally proclaim it so to be.

When the dictators, if the dictators, are ready to make war upon us, they will not
wait for an act of war on our part. They did not wait for Norway or Belgium or the
Netherlands to commit an act of war.

Their only interest is in a new one-way international law, which lacks mutuality
in its observance, and, therefore, becomes an instrument of oppression.

The happiness of future generations of Americans may well depend upon how effective
and how immediate we can make our aid felt. No one can tell the exact character
of the emergency situations that we may be called upon to meet. The Nation’s hands
must not be tied when the Nation’s life is in danger.

We must all prepare to make the sacrifices that the emergency – almost as serious
as war itself – demands. Whatever stands in the way of speed and efficiency in defense
preparations must give way to the national need.

A free nation has the right to expect full cooperation from all groups. A free nation
has the right to look to the leaders of business, of labor, and of agriculture to
take the lead in stimulating effort, not among other groups but within their own

The best way of dealing with the few slackers or trouble makers in our midst is,
first, to shame them by patriotic example, and, if that fails, to use the sovereignty
of Government to save Government.

As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone. Those who
man our defenses, and those behind them who build our defenses, must have the stamina
and the courage which come from unshakable belief in the manner of life which they
are defending. The mighty action that we are calling for cannot be based on a disregard
of all things worth fighting for.

The Nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have
been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation
of democratic life in America. Those things have toughened the fiber of our people,
have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we
make ready to protect.

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 world.

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 are:

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 expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement.

As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment

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 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

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 quick-lime
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 or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that
high concept there can be no end save victory.

SOURCE: The Presidential Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1940.

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