Study Guide

Four Freedoms Speech Quotes

By President Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • Warfare

    While the Napoleonic struggles did threaten interests of the United States because of the French foothold in the West Indies and in Louisiana, and while we engaged in the War of 1812 to vindicate our right to peaceful trade, it is nevertheless clear that neither France nor Great Britain, nor any other nation, was aiming at domination of the whole world. (13)

    FDR cites examples from America's military history to define the state of international conflict in 1941. While these examples were victories for America, he's suggesting that such successes shouldn't and can't be taken for granted. The Axis powers want control of the entireworld, which includes the United States.

    Even when the World War broke out in 1914, it seemed to contain only small threat of danger to our own American future. (17)

    In case his references to Napoleon and the War of 1812 were too obscure, FDR provides another example of military history that was sure to hit close to home.

    Though America's involvement in World War I was also successful—it established the relatively young country as a world power—it wasn't without great cost. Many lives were lost in a war that saw new weapons technologies wreak havoc like never before. Even so, the security of the United States as a country was under little threat. However, with World War II, the game had changed once again, and there was no knowing what might happen.

    But we learn much from the lessons of the past years in Europe—particularly the lesson of Norway, whose essential seaports were captured by treachery and surprise built up over a series of years. (41)

    Perched on top of Europe, Norway attempted to avoid involvement in World War II by declaring itself neutral. This made no difference to Germany, which was interested in controlling Norway because of its major seaports and proximity to Great Britain. As a result, neutral Norway was caught unprepared when Germany suddenly invaded on April 9th, 1940.

    Looking across the Atlantic, FDR cites the fall of Norway to illustrate the ruthlessness of Nazi aggression and to demonstrate the possible dangers to the United States should it remain neutral and unprepared, as well.

    The first phase of the invasion of this Hemisphere would not be the landing of regular troops. 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. (42-43)

    Warfare comes in all forms…including secret ones. Since this isn't a traditional war (but what war is, really?), FDR predicts an Axis invasion wouldn't arrive by traditional means. Instead of soldiers storming the coast and capturing territory, he predicts an inside espionage job. He warns that treasonous infiltration of U.S. security would be the method by which the Axis would topple America. He also warns that such treacherous work has already begun. Feeling paranoid yet?

    As long as the aggressor nations maintain the offensive, they—not we—will choose the time and the place and the method of their attack. (44)

    If America just sits around waiting for something to happen (but all the while hoping it won't), then the enemy holds the power since they could strike at any moment. The message here is that the United States needs to take control of its own destiny.

  • Happiness

    Today, thinking of our children and of their children, we oppose enforced isolation for ourselves or for any other part of the Americas. (11)

    This is definitely an example of FDR looking to the happiness of future generations as justification for rejecting isolationism in the present, but there's something else at work here, too. Notice how he refers to "Americas," in the plural—by which we can only assume he means North, Central, and South America. Why might the United States have a vested interest in the military and international policies of it neighbors? Hmm...

    [...] the justice of morality must and will win in the end. (51)

    It sort of has to, right? Otherwise, democracy goes the way of the dodo, and with it, basic human rights. Now, that's not a very happy thought, is it?

    We know that enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people's freedom. (57)

    Another way of thinking about this statement is that the happiness of one country can't be traded for the happiness of another. Not only is this just a terrible thing to do, but it also won't lead to a peaceful future. It will breed conflict and dissent among the oppressed and betrayed that would only lead to more violence in the future. Yikes.

    The happiness of future generations of Americans may well depend upon how effective and how immediate we can make our aid felt. (101)

    Again, FDR invokes the idea of happiness as a fragile entity in need of protection, and again he relates it to the quality of life lived by future generations. This functions similarly to the "thinking of our children and of their children" comment, but with a heightened sense of urgency.

    Also, note how FDR has a habit of repeating certain major points. Is it on purpose, and if so, why?

    For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. (115)

    Appearing just after FDR directs his audience to contemplate the social and economic factors that lead to fascism—which, unlike democracy, is sickly and weak—this comment is a total dig at tyranny in general and Nazism in particular. Take a look at the list of qualities FDR provides following this statement, all of which are examples of democratic strength. A healthy body politic is a happy body politic.

  • Loyalty

    Let us say to the democracies: "We Americans are vitally concerned in your defense of freedom. We are putting forth our energies, our resources and our organizing powers to give you the strength to regain and maintain a free world. [...] This is our purpose and our pledge." (92-95)

    This is a good example of FDR's concept of international loyalty. He is saying America should lead by example...especially if that example promotes American values. His perspective is global, and he's inviting his listeners to join him in that vision, and support America's democratic friends and allies. Sure, he does that thing when a person adopts a single voice to represent an entire population or group of people, but, hey, that's what he was elected to do.

    A free nation has the right to expect full cooperation from all groups. (106)

    Remember: freedom isn't free. Freedom for all doesn't mean freedom for those who feel like fighting for it and freedom for those who feel like sitting on the sofa eating Funyuns (even though it sometimes works out that way). FDR is like a high school football coach here, but instead of yelling for no reason, he is insisting that everyone do their parts to defend the nation. One of the perks and responsibilities of living in a free nation is that everyone works together to keep it that way.

    The best way of dealing with the few slackers or trouble makers in our midst is, first, to shame them by patriotic example, and, if that fails, to use the sovereignty of government to save government. (108)

    Let's face it: this sentence doesn't age well. The gist is that no one likes a slacker during a time of crisis because it demonstrates a selfish lack of empathy and respect for the lives of others. Loyalty often requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice. To be a slacker during the fight for democracy is to be ungrateful for all the freedoms that democracy provides...and at best, that's just plain rude.

    As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone. Those who man our defenses, and those behind them who build our defenses, must have the stamina and the courage which come from unshakable belief in the manner of life which they are defending. (109-110)

    No, this isn't FDR encouraging people to avoid gluten; it's his vision of loyalty as a force that rocket launches morale. For him, it's the fuel that feeds the blast furnace of righteousness and motivates people to continue defending democratic ideals.

    Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory. (152-153)

    All for one and one for all (but not in a fascist way...or a communist way). If everyone is on the same page, with the same goals in mind, victory is basically a sure thing. Think about these closing lines in comparison to FDR's contempt for "slackers"(108).Also, just for good measure, compare this to the line about "the justice of morality" (51) winning in the end.

  • Sacrifice

    The nation's hands must not be tied when the nation's life is in danger. (103)

    Metaphor alert! What he means here is that all resources must be available, and everyone must be ready to protect the country. In order for this to be possible, sacrifices have to be made in the way people prioritize their time and resources. There simply cannot be any restrictions when it comes to defending democracy.

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

    Since the devastation of World War II was unlike that of any kind of international conflict that had occurred before, the threat of it reaching America's shores sounded super dangerous. A serious threat demands serious preparedness to prevent something even more serious from happening. Sadly, that something serious—you know, the bombing of Pearl Harbor—happened anyway.

    Whatever stands in the way of speed and efficiency in defense preparations must give way to the national need. (105)

    Remember FDR's habit of repeating things? Whereas FDR's earlier statement that "the nation's hands must not be tied" (103) requires a bit of interpretation to understand what he means, this line is a bit more specific. The phrase "must give way" is a nice way of saying "move it or lose it" because dead weight, obstacles, and general interference with the war effort would not be tolerated.

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

    Okay, so this is kind of like when a parent or a teacher forcibly volunteers you to perform a chore by saying, "I'm sure you'd be happy to take out the trash, wouldn't you, dear?" Totally passive-aggressive.

    FDR is doing the same sneaky thing here and he's presenting it under the guise of loyalty, to boot. Another way of reading this is "I'm sure all you patriotic citizens are totally cool with giving up whatever I ask of you because...America."

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

    Cha-ching! War is expensive, people—where did you think all that money was going to come from?