On this day in 1941, American president Franklin D. Roosevelt (or FDR) delivered his state of the union address. In the groundbreaking speech, FDR enumerated Four Freedoms that he believed all human beings on earth deserved:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of worship
- Freedom from want
- Freedom from fear
The Four Freedoms speech (as it became known) was significant in that it broke with an American tradition of isolationism that grew in the wake of WWI. Americans – who had been reluctant to fight on behalf of their European allies in the “Great War” of 1914-18 – were wary of being drawn into another “great” conflict in Europe as fascist powers began clashing with more liberal nations in the late 1930s. For Roosevelt, isolationist policies would soon have to end; having relied on British financial aid to extricate the United States from the depths of the Great Depression, he understand the extent to which all global powers were linked. Additionally, he knew that a Europe dominated by fascist nations under Hitler and Mussolini would pose an existential threat to the United States and all people on earth.
Roosevelt’s speech was controversial among Americans at the time. To some, it was the wakeup call the nation badly needed as the world descended into war; for others, it was a cynical ploy designed to encourage a war that would help fund further “socialist” programs such as the New Deal. At the time, Roosevelt’s government was planning to supply huge quantities of financial and material aid to the Allies through the Lend-Lease program (which saw American trucks and weapons in the hands of British, Soviet and French troops) – another unpopular move for many American isolationists. But whatever the contemporary reaction was to the Four Freedoms speech, Roosevelt was essentially proven correct 11 months later during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, an event which resulted in the American entry into WWII.