FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, 1941 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS
("THE FOUR FREEDOMS") (6 January 1941):
TEACHING AND LEARNING MATERIALS
A. Roosevelt's speech is generally remembered as an example
of great political oratory. Why do we
remember the address this way? Are there
any parts of the speech text that you can find that seem particularly eloquent,
or inspiring, or persuasive?
B. One of the most famous parts of this address is its
description of the Four Freedoms. In the
years after the speech, hundreds of artists tried to express these freedoms in paintings, drawings, sculpture, and other forms of art. Select one of the freedoms and try your hand
at expressing it in the artistic medium of your choice.
C. Roosevelt suggests that the "dictator nations"
are acting in immoral ways. What kind of
evidence does he present to support this claim?
D. Although the president spends a lot of time
characterizing the "dictator nations," he never mentions them by
name. Is there any significance to this
choice? Would the speech have had a
different effect if he had named Germany,
Italy, or Japan as enemies in the speech?
E. The isolationists in Roosevelt's audience were strongly
opposed to allowing the United
States to get involved in the war. Many of them were fearful that FDR's
intention was to get the country into the war as soon as possible. Do you think the speech was successful at
allaying the fears of the isolationists?
Why or why not?
F. FDR argues at several points in the address that democracy
is under attack. Since democracy is not
an actual nation or country, how is it possible for it to be under attack? Is it possible to defend or rescue such an
abstract concept? If so, is it the same
or different from the way that one might defend or rescue an actual nation?
G. The lend-lease bill that the Roosevelt administration
introduced into Congress following this speech asked for permission to send
weapons and other munitions to the Allies, such as Great Britain. A great number of Americans were opposed to
this idea. The proposal was debated in
Congress as House Bill 1776. What is the
significance of this number? Why might
it have been used to label this bill?
A. Although Roosevelt's
primary audience as he gave this address was the members of Congress (that is,
they were there in the room with him), there were a number of other possible
audiences for his speech (including people who would read the speech text days
or weeks later). Compile a list of at
least four different audiences to whom Roosevelt's
speech would have been important. What
were their attitudes toward the speaker or toward the war? Provide evidence to
support your position.
B. Using a newspaper database, locate news stories that
report on Roosevelt's address in the days
after it was delivered. Are the reports
generally favorable? Do they offer a
balance of supportive and critical commentary about the speech?
C. What was Fascism?
What was Nazism? Today, we often
lump these two ideas together, but in the 1930s and 1940s people could
differentiate between them. Find out how
the two were similar, and how they were different. Why do you think we've forgotten, for the most
part, the distinction between the two?
D. Roosevelt's address mentions "Munich" in his eleventh paragraph. What was the Munich Conference? When did it take place? What role did it play in the beginning of
World War II in Europe?
E. Imagine that you are a newspaper journalist reporting on
FDR's speech for your local paper in 1941.
Write the story of the speech (don't forget the headline). How does your version of the story compare
with those of your classmates?
A. The Four Freedoms became an
important part of the charter of the United Nations, which was founded just
four years after this speech. Find the
U.N. charter documents and find the sections that refer to the freedoms
mentioned by Roosevelt. Are they listed as "the four
freedoms"? Why do you think they
ended up in their current form? Are such freedoms visible in contemporary
discourse? If so, identify two contemporary speeches that reflect similar
conceptions of freedom.
B. President Roosevelt prepared for his political career by
studying such skills as writing, speaking, and debating. Do you think these skills are still important
in political discourse today? Are there
any ways that you could improve on these skills in your school or local
community? Identify specific ways in which local schools work to develop such
C. An article in the Quarterly
Journal of Speech in February, 1943 (about two years after Roosevelt's speech) was entitled "What Speech
Teachers May Do to Help Win the War."
Do you think that trying to help "win the war" was a
legitimate activity for the classroom in 1943?
Would it be today? If no, explain why not. If yes, identify specific
ways in which students and teachers could help win a contemporary war.
D. When President Roosevelt
gave this speech, his legs had been paralyzed for over a decade. He was able to move from place to place only
in a wheelchair or using leg braces. Do
you think this physical challenge made a difference in Roosevelt's
ability to lead the nation through the Great Depression and World War II? Do you think Roosevelt
could have been a leader with the same physical challenges in the twenty-first
century? Why or why not? Try to identify
a contemporary political figure that is successful in spite of a disability.
E. One possible influence on the rhetoric in Roosevelt's address was a sermon (often called the
"City on a Hill" sermon) given in 1630 by John Winthrop, a Puritan
preacher. Try to find out more about Winthrop and this
speech. Keeping in mind that this sermon
took place long before the United
States came into being, do you see in it any
signs of the political rhetoric that we hear today, nearly four centuries
later? Identify two contemporary speeches that reflect the same themes.
F. Some of Roosevelt's
contemporaries felt that his speech justified the idea of going to war against
the "dictator" nations. In
recent years, other U.S.
presidents have made similar justifications for going to war. Locate two more contemporary war speeches to
compare to FDR's. What do you think about such rhetoric? Do you feel that it's inherently good or
bad? If you feel that some war rhetoric
is good and some is not, what accounts for the difference?