Today marks the 62d anniversary of the death in Warm Springs, Ga., of Franklin D. Roosevelt. As U.S. President for the prior 13 years, he had delivered the country a New Deal that led it out of the Great Depression, and then, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, led the country into war.
Roosevelt, like any leader, was not perfect; his orders to intern American citizens and residents on account of their Japanese ancestry cannot be forgotten. Yet his many contributions also must be remembered. Among them is the Jan. 6, 1941, State of the Union speech in which he declared:
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.
…The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.
With those words Roosevelt explained what was at stake in World War II, already raging in Europe. The ideas resonated; noted illustrator Norman Rockwell made a painting of each of the 4 freedoms. The speech, moreover, laid the groundwork for a new, postwar global order. Within Roosevelt’s articulation of friendly cooperation may be found a vision of what months after his death would be established as the United Nations. With the aid of his widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, that organization would give birth to a Universal Declaration in which civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, interlinked in the 1948 as they had been in the 1941 speech, would receive protection and promotion.