Study Guide

Four Freedoms Speech Analysis

By President Franklin D. Roosevelt

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  • Rhetoric

    It's a Pathos-Logos Tag Team

    Freshly into his third term in office, FDR probably didn't need to worry about spending too much time convincing the public that he was a respectable guy. As a result, that "please like me" rhetorical device known as "ethos" takes a backseat to its more prominently featured brethren, pathosand logos.

    FDR's use of the two rhetorical devices is pretty dense here—he lays them on thick. It's like he has a squirt bottle of ketchup (pathos) in one hand and a squirt bottle of mustard (logos) in the other, and he's squeezing both as hard as he can on a Four Freedoms footlong.

    The speech itself starts out with a healthy dose of pathos:

    I address you, the members of the 77th Congress, at a moment unprecedented in the history of the Union. I use the word "unprecedented," because at no previous time has American security been as seriously threatened from without as it is today. (2-3)

    Emotions of alarm and grave concern might follow such a serious statement. Vocabulary like "unprecedented" and "threatened" don't exactly strike a cheery note. Instead, they set a tone of seriousness that prepares the listener for an incoming message that will likely be heavy duty.

    Throughout, FDR plucks the patriotic heartstrings of the American public and does a fair bit of teasing its post-World War I anxieties. For example, he says:

    Even when the World War broke out in 1914, it seemed to contain only small threat of danger to our own American future. But, as time went on, the American people began to visualize what the downfall of democratic nations might mean to our own democracy. (17-18)

    Yikes. That's anxiety producing, for sure.

    Another example appears later, during his thinly veiled discussion of Nazism, which once again trips the trigger of American anxiety over losing its democracy:

    As a nation, we may take pride in the fact that we are softhearted; but we cannot afford to be soft-headed. We must always be wary of those who with sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal preach the "ism" of appeasement. We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests. (34-36)

    Often, his arguments based in pathos are used to support follow-up arguments that are grounded in logos. In fact, FDR freely switches back and forth. Occasionally, he'll even make a statement that hovers somewhere between the two, either to engage both the emotions and reason of his audience, or to transition from one technique to the other.

    Two Rhetorical Devices Are Better Than One

    Consider the progression from pathos to logos in the following segments:

    Every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world—assailed either by arms, or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discord in nations that are still at peace. (23)

    Here we have some straight-up pathos. The broad generalizations and vague depictions of evil portray a world engaged in a battle of dark versus light. One could even argue that FDR's words are a form of propaganda themselves, meant to elicit a reaction of fear and defensiveness among his listeners. A few lines later:

    Therefore, as your President, performing my constitutional duty to "give to the Congress information of the state of the Union," I find it, unhappily, necessary to report that the future and the safety of our country and of our democracy are overwhelmingly involved in events far beyond our borders. (26)

    This is a transitional moment when FDR switches language tactics. Think of it as a rhetorical key change. Looking at the words and phrases, what parts of this sentence use pathos, what parts use logos, and what parts use both?

    And the hits keep coming:

    Armed defense of democratic existence is now being gallantly waged in four continents. If that defense fails, all the population and all the resources of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Austral-Asia will be dominated by the conquerors. Let us remember that the total of those populations and their resources in those four continents greatly exceeds the sum total of the population and the resources of the whole of the Western Hemisphere—many times over. (27-29)

    This last example is a bit lengthy, but it's super important. FDR gives an example of what could happen if the Axis powers triumph—a conclusion arrived at through logical reasoning. This is a powerful and scary idea made even more potent because it follows an emotionally charged introduction. It's a perfect example of how FDR uses a pathos-logos combination to drive home a major point.

    Though FDR slides back and forth between pathos and logos, in the end, it's pathos that has the final word. From his listing of the Four Freedoms until the end, the speech is propelled by full-on emotional power. However, unlike the earlier instances of pathos that are intended to scare and agitate, the emotional chords of the conclusion are deeply sincere because they echo with the hope of universal freedom and dignity for all.

    Shh. It's okay. We all get a little misty-eyed at the end of the "Four Freedoms" speech.

  • Structure

    Scattered Yet Brainy

    The "Four Freedoms" speech is a fairly standard SOTU address, with the notable difference that the president wrote it himself (instead of using a hired speechwriter). This gives the text a chatty tone and loose structure that's characteristic of FDR's speeches in general. This was the guy who gave famous, and famously cozy-sounding, fireside chats after all.

    His deliberately flexible approach sometimes takes him on a roundabout path when illustrating a point, though he never strays too far from the main subject: the country and its well-being. And—bonus—his occasional tangents are never without a purpose.

    FDR packs a lot of content into this speech, including information on America's past trials and its future goals. Conveniently, he provides many of his main points in the form of lists—notably the catalog of Four Freedoms.

    As a SOTU address, "Four Freedoms" is technically supposed to be a report given to Congress by the president on the current conditions of the nation—a tradition that FDR honors in his introduction. However, he's really playing to the radio, which was broadcasting his speech nationwide.

    Knowing he had an enthralled audience beyond the Senate and House of Representatives likely accounts for the seemingly relaxed quality of the "Four Freedoms" address. FDR was able to engage his audience with down-to-earth language and a relatable, conversational style to deliver a message that was as difficult to accept as it was meant to be uplifting.

    How It Breaks Down

    Part 1: Introduction (Sentences 1-3)

    Signing On

    Radios across the country are clicked on, and FDR begins his live broadcast.

    He opens with a formal introduction, addressing the major players of the U.S. government, not once but twice. He then jumps right into the heaviness and states that the United States is being threatened by other countries like never before.

    Part 2: A Short History (Sentences 4-9)

    Backing It Up

    FDR relays a brief history of American crises and conflicts that both supports and highlights his claim that the United States is under threat from foreign nations in a way that is unlike any threat it has encountered before.

    He hits some major milestones, like the implementation of the Constitution, the Civil War, and World War I.

    He also pads these examples with a smattering of other conflicts. These references seem vague to us now, but they would have been well understood by his listeners in the 1940s. (Psst: be on the lookout for this happening again because FDR does it a lot in this speech. Sometimes important information is only alluded to instead of explicitly stated.)

    Before moving on, FDR makes his first characterization of World War II as the unrivaled threat he's talking about.

    Part 3: An Anti-Isolationist Agenda (Sentences 10-11)

    Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner

    In one of the more confusing parts of this speech, FDR combines history and metaphor to argue that the United States has historically been a dominant force on the global stage. He points out that the United States has never allowed another foreign power to isolate or prevent it from contributing to the development of world history.

    He also implies a question without specifically asking it: if no other foreign power has yet to cut off America and its worldwide influence, why would America do it to itself?

    These two lines are dense and introduce into the text FDR's anti-isolationist agenda.

    Oh, and that thing about "an ancient Chinese wall"? Well, the reference seems a little out of place, but FDR brings up the Great Wall of China to kind of make a point about isolationism.

    Part 4: Another Short(ish) History Lesson (Sentences 12-18)

    Breathe, You're Getting Historical

    FDR dips back into his history lesson. He touches upon a few more conflicts that had directly and indirectly impacted the United States since its formation. Highlights include the French Revolution, the reign of Napoleon, the War of 1812, and a significant moment in Mexican political history that FDR calls "the Maximilian interlude."

    His point is that, while these crises were bad, world domination was never the end goal for the competing nations...unlike the Axis powers. Even the disastrous events of World War I pale in comparison to the new enemies of World War II.

    Dum dum dummm.

    Part 5: Favorite Let-Downs in Recent Memory (Sentences 19-22)

    Speaking of World War I

    This is another tough paragraph, but it's an important one. It's also one of those parts that's heavy on the external references.

    FDR is talking about World War I and its aftermath, which would have still been fresh in the minds of Americans—and definitely influenced the development of U.S. isolationism.

    He refers to the "peace of 1919," which is the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 that resulted in the formulation and ratification of a slew of treaties at the end of World War I. These treaties ended World War I in the West and put a boatload of sanctions on the losing countries, specifically Germany.

    Essentially, FDR is arguing that the severity of Nazism and fascism overshadows any possible injustices that could be found in the laws enforced by the peace of 1919. He claims fascism is overtaking the world but maintains that such a tyrannical force will not overtake the United States…mainly because the United States isn't going to stand for it.

    Part 6: Threats to Democracy (Sentences 23-26)

    What a Bunch of Jerks

    Having fanned the flames of America's indignation with the threats of tyranny, FDR ups the ante by depicting democracy as a value system under attack everywhere.

    He appeals to the people's sense of democratic righteousness by suggesting that, since Americans value and defend their own democracy, they should also value and defend the democracy of others. FDR indicates the start of World War II (approximately a year and four months earlier) as the origin of this worldwide democratic breakdown…and he kind of has a point.

    Then, he puts on his commander-in-chief pants and, while quoting the Constitution, informs everyone that despite attempted isolation, the United States is already involved in World War II.

    Why? Because America is a democratic world power.

    Part 7: Some Good News (Sentences 27-29)

    ...and Some Really Bad News

    Going from bad to worse, FDR uses scare tactics to inform everyone that, should the Axis powers triumph, they would have control of the land and resources of four continents. That's everything but North and South America (not counting Antarctica, which is like banana-flavored Laffy Taffy—no one wants it.)

    This means the United States would likely be unable to defend itself in the face of tyrannical adversity and most certainly wouldn't be a world power any longer.

    Part 8: The Cold Light of Day (Sentences 30-36)

    Hey, America, Let's Not Get Cocky

    FDR gets a little poetic in this part, but his message is that America, as great as it is, shouldn't get too cocky and think it isn't in danger. It's most definitely in danger. If other democratic nations fall, America would be at a loss for allies, and it wouldn't be able to defend itself alone against global tyrannical aggression.

    He emphasizes the complete untrustworthiness of dictators and their regimes, and he lists a series of values that foreshadow the Four Freedoms he presents at the end of the speech. He also supports his claims by dropping a quotable quote from a letter Benjamin Franklin wrote as a representative of the Pennsylvania General Assembly about a land tax dispute during the French and Indian War.

    FDR rounds out this section by charging people with using their critical thinking skills. He warns them against being impressed by the flashy but deceitful ideologies and equally flashy-but-deceitful aesthetics of dictators—especially those who might want to hinder the freedom of America itself.

    Part 9: Not With a Bang, but With a Sneaky Surprise (Sentences 37-46)

    The Enemy Is Among Us

    Here we get some real talk from the president. He's saying the United States needs to be realistic about the circumstances of the war.

    His first point is that warfare happens fast and close in the 20th century—so America needs to be prepared.

    His second point is that an attack won't arrive by traditional means, i.e. a waterborne invasion. Instead, it will happen because spies and traitors will have helped enemy powers secure American strongholds and resources. The attack will be an inside job.

    FDR points to the fall of Norway as an example of this having happened and warns that similar spy games are already occurring in North and South America, giving the enemy an advantage. This is his way of again stating that the United States is already at risk and unavoidably involved in World War II.

    Part 10: A Smooth Transition (Sentences 47-49)

    Oh, Hey, Congress, How About That?

    FDR narrows the focus of his address to the 77th Congress.

    He charges them with the responsibility of protecting the country with their powers of decision-making.

    He rejects isolationism yet again by emphasizing that all of American policy—from foreign to domestic—is threatened by the war. Therefore, to help those countries battling against the Axis powers is to also help the United States maintain its integrity as a free nation. Win-win…or rather not lose-lose.

    When FDR speaks about policy in this section, he's referring to U.S. policies in general, but he's also specifically talking about the Lend-Lease policy. (Check out "Historical Context" if you need a reminder of what that is.)

    Part 11: Polishing up Policy (Sentences 50-60)

    Yay, a List

    Building upon his discussion of U.S. national policy, FDR goes into detail about what exactly he means—in case anyone forgot. He's addressing both Congress and the American people now.

    Listing the important aspects of U.S. national policy, he says:

    1. Regardless of political views, everyone should be dedicated to the protection and preservation of the country. (Sounds pretty good to us.)

    2. Regardless of political views, the United States is responsible for helping other countries that are battling anti-democratic regimes
    a) because it can.
    b) because their resistance keeps the bad guys away from the United States.
    c) because it sends a good message about the strength of America's belief in its own democratic ideals. (That also sounds pretty good.)

    3. The United States won't negotiate with terrorists and won't maintain its own comfort and safety at the expense of another's pain.

    He also cites recent election results to indicate that public opinion supports U.S. intervention in the war. Such an action—you know, intervention in a war—obviously isn't isolationist.

    Part 12: Beefin' It Up (Sentences 61-71)

    Some Things FDR Thinks Are Great, Not So Great, and Meh

    FDR provides both a plan and assessments regarding U.S. defense strategies.

    The plan? Make tons and tons of weapons. The assessment? Well, it's all over the place.

    Some things are ahead of schedule, some are behind schedule…but anyone who's dealing with American defenses has set some lofty but necessary goals. This particularly applies to the bigwigs of industry, labor, and the military.

    The bottom line is that the only satisfactory goal is a victorious end to the war. It's literally America FTW.

    Part 13: Challenges (Sentences 72-77)

    Front. Loaded.

    FDR provides a couple of examples to elaborate on the state of weapons production, specifically airplanes and warships.

    He also acknowledges the immensity of the challenges he's asking the country to face, and he assures his audience that the largest tasks are at the beginning as the country transitions from peacetime to wartime.

    (Really though? Those are the largest tasks in wartime? We're calling shenanigans, FDR.)

    Part 14: Requests (Sentences 78-86)

    Oh, Hey, Congress. You Still There?

    Whipping his attention back to Congress, FDR tells them that they need to be informed about the state of the state's defenses but that things are also going to get top secret. FDR is 100 percent sorrynotsorry about this.

    He then asks Congress for money and full permission to essentially do whatever is needed for the wartime effort. This request is ostensibly to fund and support some secret wartime business that they can't know about. What could that possibly be?

    He brings up the Lend-Lease policy again and requests permission from Congress to provide war materials to nations opposing the Axis powers.

    He also asks Congress to approve his plan to provide those materials with an agreement that they'll be returned after the war or America will be repaid in materials of equal value. It's like if we bought you a pumpkin spice latte and then later you gave us some eggnog—you know, materials of equal (and delicious) value.

    Anyway, the subtext is that this plan is in the best interests of the United States because those countries will use American weapons to ward off the Axis.

    Part 15: Recommendations (Sentences 87-89)

    Let's Be Smart About This

    FDR suggests that Congress probably shouldn't give those countries money as a loan to then use as payment for the war materials the United States gives them.

    International loans are a complicated affair, and things can get messy. FDR is trying to streamline the weapons-lending process and create an arrangement that's the most beneficial for the United States while still helping countries in need.

    The idea is that the United States helps itself by helping the other countries defend against the Axis. Assuming an Allied victory, once the war is over, the United States will reap the benefits doubly because the country contributed to winning the war, and everyone will owe America for being so helpful.

    Ooh, that's pretty clever.

    He also reiterates his previous argument that helping democratic nations by providing them with war materials is also helping the United States.

    Part 16: The Man's Method (Sentences 90-95)

    Protect Ya Neck

    After referring to the expertise of top military personnel, FDR repeats his claim that helping the other countries is a good idea and beneficial to the United States. He also articulates a national sentiment of goodwill and support from America toward democratic countries under siege…because a friend in need is a friend indeed.

    Part 17: Dictators Are Bullies (Sentences 96-100)

    ...and Liars

    FDR is assuming the Axis dictators will perceive the lending of weapons and other materials to nations under Axis threat as an act of war. As a preemptive measure, he characterizes the dictators as selfish liars who cannot and will not prevent America from helping fellow democratic nations fight against tyranny.

    FDR tells it like it is.

    He also implies that it sort of doesn't matter anyway because the dictators aren't going to wait for an invitation or a reason to attack the United States. They're just going to do it if they want to do it because dictators are bullies and only care about their own plans for world domination.

    Part 18: Sacrifices (Sentences 101-108)

    Get Ready to Be Uncomfortable

    Recalling the challenges the country will face in preparation for defense, FDR is sort of like, "No one said this was going to be pretty." The sentiment here is that the future is unpredictable and crazy, but regardless, America has to be ready and able to do whatever it can to resist. The country depends on it.

    He then doles out responsibilities to the people. These responsibilities are:

    1. Everybody is part of the war effort, so everybody must do their parts to make it as successful as it can be. Don't be a drag.

    2. People in charge of groups, like various communities and businesses, must lead those groups to make the war effort as successful as it can be. Don't be a drag.

    3. Really don't be a drag. Or you'll be shamed by society and the law.

    Part 19: Democratic Ideals (Sentences 109-113)

    Gotta Love 'Em...Really

    In this part, FDR pushes for a solid belief in American democracy for the sake of those who are working to produce the country's actual war materials (and those materials that will go to other countries). These are things like guns, boats, and airplanes. He characterizes this unified belief as supportive and nurturing to the strength and spirit of the laborers.

    The good news, he claims, is this unified belief already exists.

    Part 20: Democracy: 1, Fascism: 0 (Sentences 114-125)

    Yay, Another List

    Bringing his history lesson right up to 1941, FDR suggests that his audience contemplates the social and economic conditions that led to fascism in Europe and nationalism in Japan. He weighs those conditions against the transparency and virtuous strength of the socioeconomic conditions that make the United States strong, free, and full of delicious kimchi tacos.

    He then lists some basic elements that make up America's democratic integrity. They are:

    1. Equal opportunity for all people.

    2. The availability of jobs for people willing to, able to, and desirous of work.

    3. The availability of security for people who need it.

    4. The end of exclusive privileges for the few. (Think of the 21st-century idea of the "1 percent.")

    5. The continuation and protection of civil rights for all people.

    6. The accessibility to the benefits of scientific progress that enhance the quality of life for all people.

    Before moving on, FDR states that these things are essential and must not be compromised. Get it, FDR.

    Part 21: Some Side Notes (Sentences 126-130)

    Just Slipping These In

    While he's at it, FDR chucks in a couple of suggestions for making America's democracy even better.

    Here's the gist: even though America is amazing, that doesn't mean it's perfect. There's always room to improve. Added protection for people who can't work and/or need medical treatment is one example. Another example is to make it easier for people who want jobs to get jobs.

    By the way, this is a throwback to the New Deal.

    Part 22: Sacrifices 2: Making Do (Sentences 131-136)

    Tighten. That. Belt.

    In this part, FDR switches his focus back and forth a bit. After finishing the previous sections, he downgrades the scope of the address from the governmental to the individual. He's making a request of each citizen.

    He reminds Americans they'll be making sacrifices, but this time, he defines those sacrifices as increased tax payments for the war effort.

    He also reprimands anyone who's thinking about becoming a war profiteer, and he assures the people that, though they'll be taxed more, they'll be taxed fairly.

    Then, he turns his focus back to Congress and tells them that if they do everything he's urged them to do over the course of this very long speech (such as approve the Lend-Lease policy, put an end to neutrality, approve increased weapons spending, etc.), the country will give them a big metaphorical round of applause for doing the right thing.

    Part 23: The Four Freedoms (Sentences 137-146)


    This is the most important part of FDR's speech. In it, he imagines a not-so-distant future when everything is chill again and global democratic freedom has reestablished the moral order of the world. Speaking with a global perspective, FDR lists the four freedoms upon which this moral order is based.

    They are (drum roll, please):

    1. Freedom of speech and expression...everywhere! 

    2. Freedom of religion...everywhere!

    3. Freedom from want (which means freedom from suffering for lack of things like food, shelter, clothing, security, and other basic quality-of-life things)...everywhere!

    4. Freedom from fear (by which FDR specifically means fear of military aggression from other nations)...everywhere!

    Part 24: Conclusion (Sentences 147-153)

    Finally, For Real

    FDR finally gets to the conclusion of his speech by once more recalling the history of the United States. He contrasts the country's supposed righteousness against the inhumane cruelty of the Axis powers. He cites examples of genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany.

    He offers a new vision of a free world that is opposed to the untamed violence of tyranny and finishes off with a rally for victory.

    And then, presumably, he goes off to take a well-deserved bubble bath.

  • Tone

    Direct, Serious, and Conversational Yet Formal, Dry, and Slang-y (but Just a Little)

    Yeah, that's right. This (very long) speech is a lesson in contrasts. But, hey, FDR could pull it off.

    Roosevelt had a reputation for being a down-to-earth president. When he addressed the nation, he spoke in a casual and direct manner that was accessible to a wide audience. His fireside chats were called "chats" for a reason—they were super conversational.

    As a result, he cultivated a loyal audience that was familiar with his voice and manner of speaking. This was strategic because when it came time for an official speech, such as the "Four Freedoms" State of the Union address, he knew his listeners wouldn't balk at its formality.

    In the "Four Freedoms" speech, FDR is talking to both Congress and the American people. The tone of the address is—no surprise here—serious as a heart attack. It's about war, after all.

    With a fine balance that considers his diverse audience, it combines the directness of his more casual radio broadcasts with an official manner appropriate for a SOTU address. He does the high/low thing to perfect effect.

    At times, the language is bone dry, but the humorlessness is offset by surprising moments of offhand informality. Like when he says:

    [...] it's not probable that any enemy would be stupid enough to attack us by landing troops in the United States from across thousands of miles of ocean […]. (40)


    The necessary strategic points would be occupied by secret agents and their dupes—and great numbers of them are already here, and in Latin America. (43)

    Terms like "stupid" and "dupes" are pretty informal compared to the overall gravity of the speech, but FDR uses them with the same confidence with which he demands victory in the final line.

    In a way, FDR may as well have asked Congress to "make it rain" or asked Americans to go "balls to the wall" for the war effort and never risk undermining the solemnity of his address. That's just how good FDR was at the whole speech-making thing.

  • Writing Style

    Informative, Kind of Long-Winded, Rambling, Evocative

    While some State of the Union addresses are written by presidential speechwriters, FDR wrote the "Four Freedoms" speech himself—and honestly, you can kind of tell.

    He's Just Sayin'

    The writing style and the tone of this speech are very closely related. The conversational quality of FDR's fireside chats gets a formal makeover here with only the occasional colloquialism, but his approach remains the same—free and easy. This is what makes the speech seem conversational, despite its formal context.

    Notice how FDR addresses a topic and then moves on to another topic, only to return to the first one in a later section—almost like he remembered he wasn't totally finished talking about it?

    One example of this is when he talks about sacrifice, which he first brings up here:

    We must all prepare to make the sacrifices that the emergency—almost as serious as war itself—demands. (104)

    Though this is an important point, he addresses it so briefly that if you sneezed, you'd miss it. It's not until after several paragraphs about topics such as cooperation, leadership, morale, and satisfaction (just to name a few) that FDR makes his twisty way back to sacrifice:

    I have called for personal sacrifice. I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call. (131-132)

    And then, boom–the truth comes out:

    A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in taxes. (133)

    Don't sugarcoat it, Frank.

    Maybe this was a long con on FDR's part…or maybe he just needed an editor.

    A Delicate Touch

    Another characteristic of the "Four Freedoms" speech is FDR's regular use of subtle historical allusions to develop his arguments. And sometimes those allusions are really subtle, veering into euphemism territory.

    For example, "quicklime in the ditch" (147) is about the Nazis' monstrous use of mass graves. The "four-year War Between the States" (5) is about the Civil War. Both of these examples require a familiarity with the events they describe to know what FDR is talking about. In the first example, it's the Nazi genocides of World War II, and in the second, it's the duration of the Civil War. In the case of the Nazi genocides, FDR's language is especially careful.

    Since he was speaking on the radio, it's likely he used both euphemism and allusion in consideration of his diverse audience. Even though "Four Freedoms" is a State of the Union address, he's talking to the American people as well as Congress, so his rhetoric has to be inviting to all listeners.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The official title of this speech is, well, official: "Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union by Franklin D. Roosevelt."

    But, because most people fall asleep before reading that whole title through, it's more frequently called FDR's "Four Freedoms" speech. This is in reference to, you guessed it, the Four Freedoms. Pretty cut and dry.

    The speech was dubbed "Four Freedoms" because these four points are its most famous and enduring elements. Altogether, they create a single, unified concept of human dignity—a concept that must always be upheld and defended.

    No wonder it was popular.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the 77th Congress:

    I address you, the members of the 77th Congress, at a moment unprecedented in the history of the Union. I use the word "unprecedented," because at no previous time has American security been as seriously threatened from without as it is today. (1-3)

    The opening lines aren't very famous, but they are direct. (Which is probably why they aren't all that famous.)

    FDR uses a standard intro for this speech, and he abides by the rules of what a SOTU address should be. He's talking to Congress, so he addresses Congress. He isn't being rude by not addressing the rest of the country—he is just following tradition.

    Examine this in relation to his SOTU address from's almost exactly the same.

    He does, however, jump right in to the serious business almost immediately. FDR had some burning topics to discuss (i.e., the craziness happening in Europe), and he wanted to get right to it.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory. (149-153)

    The closing lines, like the opening ones, are...not very famous.

    But that's mostly because they're eclipsed by the acclaim of the Four Freedoms, which show up right before he ends the speech. In this conclusion, FDR is basically just recapping what he's already presented:

    • The future freedom of the nation is in the hands and faith of its people.
    • Freedom is human dignity for everyone everywhere (to be incredibly simplistic about it).
    • America is going to help other countries fight tyranny.
    • America is strong because it's focused.
    • Victory is the only acceptable outcome.

    We do have to say, though, that "there can be no end save victory" is one insanely stirring statement.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (6) Tree Line

    This is a long speech. Some people might even consider it a bit boring. (What can we say? FDR liked to talk.)

    But its length isn't why it's tough nor is its ability (or, um, lack thereof) to keep you on the edge of your seat. It's tough because of its content.

    FDR packs this speech full of historical allusions—from the Great Wall of China to World War I, and he assumes a pre-existing knowledge about world history on the part of his audience.

    …which is a pretty tall order.

    Reading or listening to the speech today, there are added layers of history that we need to know about as a 21st-century audience. Specifically, we need to understand the policies of isolationism in the United States and the extreme political climate in Europe and Asia. These conditions weren't yet history in 1941; they were just daily life. They aren't defined in the speech because everyone would have known what FDR was talking about.

    If you find yourself feeling a bit out of touch with FDR's perspective, take a look at the "Glossary" and "Shout-Outs" sections, which conveniently include all of his historical references with explanations. You're welcome.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Historical and Political References

    Quick note: FDR is a master of saying something without actually saying it, so most of these references are implied within the text of the speech.

    • Axis Powers (mostly Germany and Italy) (25, 31, 35-36, 40, 41, 44, 48, 96-100, 144)
    • Civil War (6)
    • Congress (1-2, 26, 46-47, 78, 81-82,136)
    • French Revolution (12)
    • Great Wall of China (10)
    • Maximilian I of Mexico (15)
    • Napoleon (12-13)
    • National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis) (21)
    • Paris Peace Conference (19-21)
    • "Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, November 11, 1755," a letter by Benjamin Franklin (33)
    • Speaker of the House (1)
    • United Kingdom (13, 15, 39, 40)
    • U.S. Army and Navy (65, 69, 90)
    • U.S. Constitution (4)
    • Vice President (referring to either John Nance Garner, who was technically still the VP or to Henry Agard Wallace, who would become the VP two weeks later on January 20th, 1941) (1)
    • War of 1812 (13)
    • World War I (7, 14)
    • World War II (23-24, 26-29, 37, 49, 54, 114)

    Biblical References

    • God (6, 139, 149)

    References to This Text

    Literary and Philosophical References

    • John Crowley, Four Freedoms 


    • Four Freedoms Monument in Madison, Florida
    • Four Freedoms Monument in Evansville, Indiana
    • Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, New York


    • Hugo Ballin, The Four Freedoms 
    • Allyn Cox, Four Freedoms
    • Michael Lenson, The Four Freedoms
    • Mildred Nungester Wolfe, Four Freedoms

    Pop Culture References

    • Norman Rockwell's series of paintings based on the Four Freedoms
  • Trivia

    Though the SOTU report is an annual occurrence, it wasn't until FDR actually called it the "State of the Union" address in 1934 that it was called by that name. Before then, it was known more generally as "the President's Annual Message to Congress" and the "Hey, Congress, Hey" speech. (Source)

    The National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 led to the creation of the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. Its purpose is to preserve the heritage of America's important sound recordings. FDR's fireside chats are included among the first 50 recordings in the registry. Feel like getting chatted up by the 32nd president of the United States? Have a listen! (Source)

    FDR delivered the "Four Freedoms" address with ease, but that doesn't mean it was easy to write. The address went through seven drafts, and the namesake Four Freedoms didn't even appear until the fourth draft. Guess the fourth time's the charm. (Source)

    Located at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is a memorial to the man himself, which was designed by Louis Kahn, the renowned and notoriously mysterious architect. Differing from more traditional design conventions, as used in the Four Freedoms monuments in Indiana and Florida, Kahn's design is typical of his heavy, geometric, and slightly spooky style. It's also the architect's final work. (Source)

    FDR's first presidential inauguration was the last time the ceremony was held on March 4th. Since then, inaugurations have taken place on January 20th, thanks to the 20th Amendment. (Source)

    FDR read the "Four Freedoms" address from a typewritten copy that has a gross stain on the first page. Sure, it's an old document, but still, you have to wonder if he was eating a hot dog or something during rehearsal. (Source)

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