Franklin Roosevelt died in April 1945, just before the end of World War II (victory in Europe came in May 1945 and victory in Japan in August 1945). Nevertheless, he laid the groundwork for the creation of the United Nations which would govern post-war relations between countries. His widow Eleanor Roosevelt ensured that the United Nations recognized the Four Freedoms.
The United Nations began operations in October 1945. The challenges were huge. Much of Europe and Asia lay in ruins, devastated by World War II. Displaced refugees numbered in the tens of millions. Only after the war did the full horror of the Holocaust become apparent. And the war did not end the struggle between democracy and communism.
President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to be part of the first delegation from the United States to the United Nations. In June 1946 the UN General Assembly created the UN Commission on Human Rights and directed it to create an international bill of rights. Eleanor Roosevelt was elected to lead the effort. She chaired more than 3,000 hours of meetings, and was successful. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly in December 1948. The photo below shows Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Spanish language version:
Eleanor Roosevelt made certain that the Four Freedoms were included in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
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 as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms were:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of worship
- Freedom from want
- Freedom from fear
In the Preamble quoted above, “freedom of worship” was changed to “freedom of belief” and the order of “want and fear” was reversed, but those were the only changes.
As I noted in both Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms and Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, there are two groups of freedoms. Freedom of speech and worship are not the same as freedom from want and fear. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes this difference. Freedom from fear and want are aspirational. The only mention of these freedoms in the UDHR is in the preamble quoted above. Freedom of speech and belief are prescriptive. These freedoms are further explained in subsequent articles in the UDHR:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
These articles make it clear that freedom of speech and freedom of belief (i.e., freedom of religion) are intertwined. Both depend on freedom of thought and opinion.
The effect of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been profound:
Ultimately, Eleanor Roosevelt’s commitment to the Four Freedoms changed the world. Her determination to transform this gauzy ideal into a concrete document had consequences that neither she, Franklin Roosevelt, nor Norman Rockwell could have imagined. The declaration inspired dozens of international covenants and the creation of international courts. It inspired numerous new governments and an increasingly powerful international movement.
(source, p. 183)
The Four Freedoms have been commemorated in a park: the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park opened in 2012. The park is located on Roosevelt Island in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, in sight of the United Nations headquarters building in New York City.
[The UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) created in 1946, which drafted the UDHR adopted in 1948, should not be confused with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) created in 1950. The UN Commission on Human Rights was replaced and superseded by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2006. No one surpasses the United Nations when it comes to bureaucracy and acronyms.]
While Franklin Roosevelt conceived the idea of the Four Freedoms, and Eleanor Roosevelt imprinted the Four Freedoms in the DNA of the United Nations, it was the artwork of Norman Rockwell—especially Freedom of Speech depicting a Vermont town meeting—that brought the Four Freedoms to life and made them known around the world.
In 2018 the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, created a special exhibit: “Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms.”
This traveling exhibit was originally scheduled for the following locations:
- New-York Historical Society, New York City, 5/25/18-9/02/18
- The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan, 10/13/18-1/13/19
- George Washington University Museum, Washington, DC, 2/09/19-5/06/19
- Mémorial de Caen, Normandy, France, 6/04/19-10/27/19
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, 12/15/19-3/22/20
- Denver Art Museum, 7/04/20-9/20/20
- Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Fall 2020
The exhibition in Normandy, France, will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Exhibition plans may change, so if you hope to see this exhibit check the website for schedules. Nancy and I saw the exhibit at The Henry Ford Museum on October 18 and 19 as I wrote about on my other blog, The Switchel Traveler: The Henry Ford – Intro.
Much of the information in this series of blog posts came from this exhibit and the book that was prepared for it:
- Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms – exhibit website
- Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms – book
The image at the top of this post is the cover of the book.