In 1940, war was raging in Europe and the U.S. was heavily considering getting involved; its allies were being attacked and freedom and democracy were being threatened. This was the hotly debated issue when it came time for President Roosevelt to give his State of the Union address, as seen in Figure 1. In the address commonly known as FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech, he accomplishes his purpose of inspiring the nation to go to war through patriotic appeal and by emphasizing his points through the use of repetition.
Figure 1. "Franklin D. Roosevelt." 6 January 1941. Photograph. American Rhetoric. 5 Oct. 2010
FDR receives applause numerous times during the address, most often at patriotic moments. This shows that the people in Congress are supportive of him in his efforts to inspire the American people to also support joining the war. When FDR describes the kind of tyranny that the Nazis are setting up in Europe and Asia, he states that “The American people have unalterably set their faces against that tyranny,” and goes further to say that those in charge of the Nazi movement are seeking, or will eventually, to “clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests.” In doing so, he makes a powerful appeal to American patriotism. As he concludes the address, FDR espouses four basic freedoms that he argues should be had by everyone—“everywhere in the world”: the freedoms of speech and worship, already guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution, and freedom from both want and fear. These ideas ring true with the American mindset that “all men are created equal,” making for another hard-hitting patriotic appeal.
FDR’s use of repetition in his speeches is one of the reasons he is regarded in the nation’s history as an excellent public speaker. While discussing the necessity of sending aid to European nations under assault by Nazi forces, he lists three components of U.S. foreign policy, all of which defend his sending of supplies to Europe. They are that America is committed to an all-inclusive national defense, to support any nation who defends its freedom by not submitting to dictatorship, and that America will not submit to dictatorship in the name of peace. He precedes each with the phrase “by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship.” By doing so, he both clearly states that Americans in general, regardless of political party, support these policies—another evocation of patriotism—and subtly implies that each one carries equal importance and worth, further increasing the worth of the whole. In mentioning each of the four freedoms, FDR contends that it should be had “everywhere” or “anywhere in the world.” This tactic helps accomplish his goal because it causes his listeners to think of how these freedoms, many if not all of which they themselves have, are being threatened overseas by the Nazis.
The “Four Freedoms” speech is successful in rallying the American people to join the war effort in Europe. Normal Rockwell immortalized the speech by making four paintings, each dedicated to one of the four freedoms and all used as a visual tool to advocate buying war bonds, which were essentially IOUs to the Federal government, the money from which would be used to create supplies for the European nations. Thanks in part to President Roosevelt’s timely rally cry to war, the Allies were able to defeat the Nazi oppression.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. “The Four Freedoms.” American Rhetoric. N.p., 6 January 1941. Web. 5 Oct. 2010.
Kratz, Jessie. "Special Display Of State Of The Union Addresses For Press Only." National Archives. N.p., 26 Jan. 2005. Web. 5 Oct. 2010.