Washington, D. C. · January 6, 1941

On this date in 1941 in Washington, D.C, President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his State of the Union Address to the U.S. Con­gress to out­line his desire for a world based not on a “new order of tyran­ny”—an allusion to the “new Euro­pean order” cham­pioned by Adolf Hitler’s Ger­many and Benito Mussolini’s Italy—but on four essen­tial human rights: free­dom of speech, free­dom of worship, free­dom from want, and free­dom from fear. These four free­doms would later be spelled out in the Atlantic Charter, signed by Roose­velt and British Prime Minis­ter Winston Churchill at the Pla­centia Bay Con­fer­ence held in New­found­land, Canada, on August 14, 1941, nearly two years after Britain had declared war on Ger­many and less than four months before the U.S. entered the con­flict. (In 1948 the four freedoms were explicitly incorporated into the preamble to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.) The illus­tra­tor Nor­man Rock­well created a quar­tet of paintings depicting these four free­doms that was first pub­lished in the Satur­day Evening Post. In 1943 the Office of War In­for­ma­tion printed 240,000 copies of Rock­well’s Four Free­doms to be used as an in­cen­tive for war bond pur­chasers.

Roose­velt’s Janu­ary 6, 1941, address to Con­gress also sig­naled a break with the U.S. policy of nonin­ter­ven­tion in world affairs by ini­ti­ating a na­tion­al debate on what would become the U.S. Lend-Lease pro­gram. The presi­dent noted that the nations now at war with Nazi Ger­many, Fascist Italy, and Im­perial Japan were growing short of resources and the ability to pay for them. Two months later, on March 11, Roose­velt signed the hall­mark legis­la­tion that pre­cipi­tated a flow of mili­tary and eco­nomic aid to coun­tries whose defense the presi­dent deemed vital to the United States, and he estab­lished an Office of Lend-Lease Admin­is­tra­tion that remained active through­out the war. The ini­tial authori­zation totaled seven bil­lion war­time dollars and was directed first to the hard-pressed British people. Prime Minister Chur­chill ex­pressed his country’s appre­ci­a­tion of the mea­sure, hailing it as a “new Magna Charta.” By the end of the war, the U.S. had ex­tended 50 billion dollars in aid (equi­valent to 656 billion aid dollars today) to all powers fighting the enemy.

Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, Oil on Canvas, 1943

Rockwell’s Freedom of SpeechRockwell’s Freedom of Worship, 1943
Rockwell’s Freedom from Want, 1943Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear, 1943

Top Row (L–R): Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship
Bottom Row (L–R): Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear

Listen to President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech


Roosevelt Proposes the Lend-Lease Program to the U.S. Congress, Urging Americans to Become the “Arsenal of Democracy”