The Four Freedoms Speech was given on January 6, 1941, eleven months before the United States declared war on Japan and entered World War II. President Roosevelt's hope was that this speech would encourage Americans to abandon their anti-war stance in some bid to promote an "international ideal of freedoms." The State of the Union speech before Congress was largely about national security, and the idea of keeping the world safe for democracy (not too unlike many speeches given today).
Roosevelt critiqued isolationism in the speech by saying "No realistic American can expect from a dictator’s peace international generosity, or return of true independence, or world disarmament, or freedom of expression, or freedom of religion–or even good business. Such a peace would bring no security for us or for our neighbors," "Those, who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
THE UNITED NATIONS: Indeed, The Four Freedoms were even included in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads, "Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed the highest aspiration of the common people..."
HYPOCRISIES: In a 1942 radio address, President Roosevelt declared that the Four Freedoms embodied “rights of men of every creed and every race, wherever they live .” However, despite these words, there were many minorities in America who were still treated with few rights. Many of the African Americans who fought in the war were forced to fight in segregated units, and still had to face harsh discrimination at home when they returned from the war effort.
On February of 19, 1942 Roosevelt also authorized the internment of Japanese Americans based on ancestry with Executive Order 9066. By 1946, the United States had incarcerated 120,000 individuals of Japanese descent, of whom about 80,000 had been born in the United States.
Another glaring hypocrisy was when Roosevelt called for "a world-wide reduction of armaments" as a goal for "the future days, which we seek to make secure" but one that was "attainable in our own time and generation." While simultaneously calling for America to rapidly ramp up their production of arms.
Yet perhaps the worst hypocrisy of all is what happened in the aftermath ofthe war. The four freedoms certainly weren't granted to Germany when they lost 25% of their pre-war territory, and when 15 million germans were expelled from their former lands (with 2 million germans dying in the process Source: Necrometrics). Read our report on The Seizure of Eastern German Territories for more information on this matter.
The idea that China (a signatory on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) was going to promote the four freedoms is also ridiculous. Between 1927-1948, China was led by the Kuomintang (KMT) party, which was a Nationalist party under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang was part of the 'New Life Movement,' which rejected western ideas of democracy in favor of nationalism and authoritarianism.
To read the full text of Roosevelt's speech, check out our link below.
Also check out our page on the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights
 White, E.B. & Lerner, Max & Cowley, Malcolm & Niebuhr, Reinhold (1942). The United Nations Fight for the Four Freedoms. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
: Foner, Eric, The Story of American Freedom. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998) 223
READ FULL TEXT OF SPEECH HERE
SELECTION OF THE TEXT OF ROOSEVELT'S FOUR FREEDOMS SPEECH
"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb."—Franklin D. Roosevelt, excerpted from the State of the Union Address to the Congress, January 6, 1941