Eleanor Roosevelt holds up a
copy of the United Nations’
Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, which she helped to
write, c. 1949.

In 1941, with Nazi Germany occupying most of Europe and Japan expanding throughout Asia and the Pacific, the United States began to rearm.

In his January 1941 State of the Union address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked beyond the clouds of war with a vision for a postwar world. F.D.R. called for the recognition of Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The first two freedoms— consistent with the First Amendment of the Constitution— were not controversial, but the second two were rooted in an expansion of freedom based upon his administration’s New Deal and an internationalist foreign policy. Freedom from Want meant that governments had to ensure the basic needs of their citizens. Freedom from Fear called for a worldwide reduction of armaments so that no nation could threaten any other. Believing his policies misguided, many conservatives and business leaders opposed Roosevelt. Roosevelt made clear that the Four Freedoms were intended for “everywhere in the world.” During World War II, he continued to press for the implementation of these ideals and for the creation of a United Nations organization to carry them out.

After F.D.R.’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt, the social justice activist and former first lady, led the U.N. committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This Declaration, a benchmark for the expansion of freedom, broadens the ideas of the Four Freedoms.

A poster promoting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, produced by the Pennsylvania Works Projects Administration, c. 1941.