Conversations in Management

Franklin Delano Roosevelt —The Four Freedoms


The third is freedom from want…everywhere in the world.


The world was a dangerous place as President Roosevelt addressed Congress in January of 1941. The twin evils of Fascism and Imperialism had unleashed chaos and devastation unlike anything ever before experienced by mankind. At the time, America remained one of the few peaceful spots on the planet. That distance from the conflict and memories of the last Great War turned many Americans into isolationists. They reasoned that as long as America was safe, there was no need to fight other people’s battles. In his speech, Roosevelt was attempting to alter that perspective. He was alerting the nation to the fact that in time, the enemies of democracy would make their way to our shores and that the best time to defeat them was before they ever arrived. As the speech ended, Roosevelt tried to broaden America’s perspective by pointing out what we shared with people everywhere in the world. He said our commonality was based on four essential freedoms—the freedom of speech, the freedom to worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. He believed that when these four freedoms were globally shared, world peace would be inevitable. Moreover, he believed that this wasn’t a distant vision, but one of a world that was attainable, “in our own time and generation.”

Inspired by the speech, one of America’s most popular artists, Norman Rockwell, determined to illustrate the Four Freedoms. He painted them obsessively over a six-month period in 1942 and saw them sequentially published by the Saturday Evening Post in early 1943. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Over 25,000 people ordered a set of all four prints as soon as they became available. The illustrations proved so popular, that the Treasury Department organized The Four Freedoms War Bond Show which featured the original paintings. The show toured sixteen cities, was attended by one and a quarter million people and raised over $130 million for the war effort. Capitalizing on the popularity of the paintings generated by the show, the Office of War Information printed an additional 2.5 million copies. Rockwell’s illustrations and the Four Freedoms themselves had clearly struck a responsive chord deep in the country’s psyche.  In a letter to Rockwell, President Roosevelt wrote, “I think you have done a superb job in bringing home to the plain, everyday citizens the plain, everyday truths behind the Four Freedoms.”

Of the four illustrations, Freedom from Want was, and is, arguably the most beloved. It captures an extended family in a celebratory moment of joy, optimism, hope—and thanksgiving. These were feelings in short supply during November of 1943, yet Rockwell’s painting managed to shine a bright light on the resiliency of the human spirit. It sparks in us the recognition that no matter how uncertain the times or difficult our circumstances, we have the capacity to recognize the wonders of the world around us and to give thanks. It reminds us of the strength and comfort to be found when surrounded by people we love and to be thankful for them. This Thanksgiving, as plain everyday people, we’ll give thanks for our Freedom from Want, but let’s also give thanks for all four freedoms and remember those for whom the Four Freedoms remain a distant vision. Happy Thanksgiving!


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Freedom of Speech

Freedom to Worship

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Freedom from Want

Freedom from Fear


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