Gerald P. Nye, the isolationist guy, was a Republican senator from North Dakota. An impassioned speaker, he was known to repeatedly pound the table to make his point, often with the result of bloodied knuckles.
We're not even kidding.
Nye came to prominence in late 1934 as head of the Senate Munitions Committee. The purpose of the committee was to investigate the influence that weapons manufacturers might have had in America's decision to enter World War I.
There was a strong popular belief that World War I had been an unnecessarily costly war. Many wanted answers for how and why America really got involved…and if it was truly an ethical decision, or one driven by greed.
Senator Nye wasn't convinced that the United States should have interfered in World War I at all. In fact, he was staunchly against American intervention in foreign conflicts altogether. A huge supporter of isolationism, Nye's political motivations led to the enactment of the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s.
Far from being neutral themselves, the Neutrality Acts established a set of legal limitations on U.S. foreign policy. The first of the Neutrality Acts, passed in 1935, forbade any U.S. citizen (including the president) from supplying materials such as weapons, technology, and even food to any party involved in a foreign conflict. The Neutrality Acts of 1936, 1937, and 1939 basically elaborated on this theme of non-interventionism, which made FDR's attempts to help nations like Great Britain especially tricky.
Despite their initial popularity, the Neutrality Acts were fairly short-lived. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was officially at war, and the Neutrality Acts were repealed.
Very similar in theme and content to the "Four Freedoms" speech, this FDR radio address outlines the dealio with World War II in late 1940.
Nicknamed "Great Arsenal of Democracy" for the catchy slogan that describes American might, FDR's fireside chat from December 29th, 1940, is basically a preamble to the "Four Freedoms" address.
Broadcast to Americans and to the world, the speech boldly pledges American support of Britain in a flagrant rejection of neutrality policies. Though FDR manages to avoid explicitly saying that the United States is getting involved in World War II, he does detail the imminent danger of the conflict and suggests that America will have to deal with it…sooner or later.
(Psst, to learn more about this fireside chat, check out this Learning Guide.)
Though the United States was determined to fight the good democratic fight against the ravages of tyranny, it was still unable to avoid perpetrating a few injustices itself.
And we're not talking about wartime propaganda—we're talking about concentration camps on American soil. Yeah, it was bad.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States was fully flung into World War II. Isolationist sentiments dissolved, and reactionary passions took hold. Much of this patriotic energy went to defending the country by justifiable means, but some of it fed into the vicious irrationality of war hysteria.
The result was a cultural and governmental paranoia that led to the oppression of certain populations within the United States. Namely, that of citizens with German, Italian, and—most extensively—Japanese heritage.
Executive Order 9066 is one such example of this hysteria. Signed by FDR on February 12th, 1942, a little more than a year after he delivered the "Four Freedoms" speech, it allowed the government to deport citizens of these backgrounds to guarded military internment camps.
Suspended two year later, Executive Order 9066 remains a shameful part of America's war efforts in the 1940s and a contradictory part of FDR's administration. In the '80s, official apologies were made, and the United States finally owned up to the fact that it had been crazy horrible to citizens of Japanese descent.
(Want the full scoop on this order and the events that followed? Check out our Learning Guide for "Executive Order 9066.")
The Atlantic Charter was a joint statement issued by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14th, 1941. It defined the goals for the outcome of the war, assuming that the Allies won.
(And they did. Go us.)
A concise document, it contains a bunch of details that focus on human rights, and it was clearly written with the Four Freedoms in mind. It also incorporates concerns related to international trade, global economic conditions, and freedom of the seas…which is something that sounds vaguely related to pirates and swashbuckling but is unfortunately way more bureaucratic.
Though not an official legal document, it made a huge splash with humanitarians and like-minded leaders of the time. Oceanic in its influence (hey-o!), the Atlantic Charter gave shape to the structure of a more humane future and became the foundation for the United Nations.
After the end of World War II, an intergovernmental organization was established to prevent such a devastating conflict from ever happening again. Today, we know this organization as the United Nations—you know, the guys responsible for trick or treating for UNICEF.
In the early years of its formation, the United Nations went through a process of drafting declarations and charters that explained its purpose as a humanitarian initiative and defined the nature and meaning of human rights. (Dang. That's just insanely impressive.)
These documents are now collected in the International Bill of Human Rights, which is the basis for a whole passel of international law.
An important component of the International Bill of Human Rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that lists 30 articles outlining the rights to which every human being is absolutely entitled.
Built upon the central principles of FDR's Four Freedoms—but bigger and better than the Four Freedoms—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was developed by the United Nations with the help of widowed first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Completed in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10th of that year. Bonus factoid: in commemoration of that historical vote, December 10th is annually recognized as Human Rights Day.