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 non-in­ter­ven­tion 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 to all powers fighting the enemy.

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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”