We’ve Still Got Four Freedoms (Maybe More)

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Norman Rockwell’s pictorial interpretation of FDR’s “Four Freedoms,” printed in four successive issues of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943, instantly hit home. Employing the painter’s own very ordinary Vermont neighbors as subjects, the folksy illustrations packed more emotional wallop than President Roosevelt’s grand January 1941 speech two years earlier (pictured below) that outlined America’s four basic human freedoms at the start of World War II: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

The paintings were a phenomenal success. After their publication, the Post received 25,000 requests for reprints. In May 1943, representatives from the Post and the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced a joint campaign to sell war bonds and stamps. They would send the Four Freedoms paintings along with 1,000 original cartoons and paintings by other illustrators and original manuscripts from The Saturday Evening Post on a national tour.

The story of how these posters influenced and raised the American spirit is smartly analyzed in Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms by Stephanie Haboush Plunkett and James Kimble, the catalog for the first comprehensive traveling exhibition devoted to the history and legacy of Norman Rockwell’s iconic depictions of FDR’s Four Freedoms.