Ours to Fight For: Norman Rockwell and the Four Freedoms

FDR Inaugural AddressFDR Inaugural Address, Jan. 20, 1941. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Norman Rockwell was one of the most prominent painters in American history. During his lifetime, he produced over 4,000 works that have appeared in magazines, literature, and on calendars. His iconic paintings adorn the walls of homes and businesses alike. “I paint life as I’d like it to be,” he once explained.

His paintings helped make World War II “the Good War,” one behind which all Americans could rally. While Pearl Harbor may have angered Americans, they needed a positive principle for which to fight. Four of Rockwell’s paintings not only helped fund the war, but also reminded people why the United States had gone to war.

In his 1941 Inaugural Address, Franklin Roosevelt declared, “We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want…everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear…anywhere in the world.” Those “four freedoms” would define United States’ involvement in the war. They were the enduring values America holds, sometimes more perfectly than others.

Roosevelt’s speech inspired Rockwell to produce four images to accompany each freedom. When The Saturday Evening Post published the paintings, the government had them reproduced. The four paintings toured 16 cities and raised $133 million for the war effort.

The paintings brought the four freedoms to life. Americans saw themselves in the paintings, and only then did the abstract become concrete. To this day, despite Jim Crow segregation, and a myriad of other social problems at the time, World War II remains the Good War, a war worth fighting.

About the Author

Steven Cromack

Historian. Teacher. James Madison Fellow. Steven Cromack teaches high school social studies in the Boston suburbs, lives for the moment, and pursues Life itself.

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