Four Freedoms: FDR and Norman Rockwell

1-cent Four Freedoms single.

Contributing Writer
Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist

“A special Four Freedoms commemorative postage stamp has been placed on sale at the Jamestown Postoffice, Postmaster E. R. Ganey said today. It is intended this stamp shall displace the 1-cent National Defense issue as soon as the stocks on hand have been exhausted.” The Four Freedoms stamp was issued on February 12, 1943 and was intended as a patriotic regular issue stamp to replace the 1-cent National Defense stamp of 1940. What was the Four Freedoms stamp and what was the connection between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and well-known American artist Norman Rockwell?

On January 6, 1941, when most of Western Europe was under Nazi Germany’s domination, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the U.S. Congress and articulated his vision for a postwar world founded on four basic human freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Roosevelt, in the face of a growing threat that the German war machine was erasing such freedoms from the countries the Nazi forces had conquered, hoped that the four democratic values held dear by our republic, the United States of America, could be preserved and stand as ideals of a free people throughout the world when peace could be restored. But more to Roosevelt’s intuition, he hoped that the iteration of these democratic ideals would serve to make the American public and political leaders in and out of government abandon the isolationist policies that emerged after WW I. After The Great War, the War to End All Wars, many Americans were against any kind of intervention in the conflict that was raging in Europe. However, reminding Americans that their freedoms may very well be at stake, as one by one European nations fell to Germany’s savage sweep, Roosevelt felt that his speech was a covert call to arms in case a declaration of war was imperative to keeping our nation’s freedoms intact and viable. As we now know, by the end of 1941, in fact on December 7, 1941 when we declared war on Japan after Pearl Harbor, the United States Congress also declared war on Nazi Germany. Now we were in the fight to retain our way of life, our freedoms, and with hope, restore those freedoms to many European countries that had been stripped of theirs. In 1943 a stamp commemorating Roosevelt’s four freedoms appeared.

The Jamestown Post Journal article contained a description of the Four Freedoms stamp: “The Four Freedoms stamp, arranged vertically, is printed in green ink. The central subject enclosed in an oval-shaped panel, is a reproduction in bas-relief of Liberty holding the lighted Torch of Freedom and Enlightenment. Below the central design is a rectangular plaque with white background, in which appears the wording ‘Freedom of Speech and Religion, From Want and Fear,’ in solid Gothic lettering arranged in five lines. In the space at the right and left of the central oval and plaque are shown conventionalized oak leaves, outlined in white.”

In 1943, inspired by FDR’s address to Congress, Norman Rockwell created the Four Freedoms in paintings that were reproduced as covers in four consecutive issues of the Saturday Evening Post, one of America’s popular outstanding magazines that Rockwell illustrated, with essays by contemporary writers. Rockwell, whose art is grounded in all aspects of American life, visually captured the essence of the concepts behind President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. The paintings transcended his words and gave Americans a medium through which they could truly understand what they were fighting for.

Ironically, the U.S. government rejected Rockwell’s offer to create the paintings of the Four Freedoms, but Rockwell prevailed and they were publicly circulated when the Saturday Evening Post commissioned and reproduced the paintings. They were greeted with great enthusiasm by Americans, and in 1945 The New Yorker reported that the Four Freedoms paintings were met “with more enthusiasm, perhaps, than any other paintings in the history of American art.” The paintings symbolized America’s war aim and gave hope to a war-wearied nation because through the long struggle Americans knew they were fighting for long-held freedoms dear to them. Rockwell hoped that his work would raise money for the war effort. In fact, the paintings toured the country in an exhibition jointly sponsored by the Saturday Evening Post and the U.S. Treasury Department, and by the end of WW II, the U.S. government would print millions of copies that helped sell $132,999,537 worth of war bonds.

In 1963, Norman Rockwell ended his forty-seven year association with the Saturday Evening Post, and on July 1, 1994 the Norman Rockwell stamp was issued. Roosevelt, his Four Freedoms, and Rockwell are forever connected by three postage stamps created to honor two great Americans and their faith in the American way of life.