The “most ambiguous” of the Four Freedoms, Fortune magazine remarked, was freedom from want. Yet this “great inspiring phrase,” as a Pennsylvania steelworker put it in a letter to the president, seemed to strike the deepest chord in a nation just emerging from the Depression. Roosevelt initially meant it to refer to the elimination of barriers to international trade. But he quickly came to link freedom from want to an economic goal more relevant to the average citizen—protecting the future “standard of living of the American worker and farmer” by guaranteeing that the Depression would not resume after the war. This, he declared, would bring “real freedom for the common man.”

In this recruitment poster for the Boy Scouts, a svelte Miss Liberty prominently displays the Bill of Rights, widely celebrated during World War II as the centerpiece of American freedom.

Patriotic Fan. This fan, marketed to women during World War ll, illustrates how freedom and patriotism were closely linked. At the far left and right, owners are instructed in ways to help win the war and preserve American freedom. The five middle panels suggest some of the era’s definitions of freedom: freedom “to listen” (presumably without government censorship); self-government; freedom of assembly; the right to choose one’s work; and freedom “to play.”


1. Compare the elements of freedom depicted on the fan with the Four Freedoms of President Roosevelt.

2. What aspects of freedom are not depicted in the fan?

When Norman Rockwell’s paintings of the Four Freedoms first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, each was accompanied by a brief essay. Three of these essays, by the celebrated authors Stephen Vincent Benet, Booth Tarkington, and Will Durant, emphasized that the values Rockwell depicted were essentially American and the opposite of those of the Axis powers. For Freedom from Want, the editors chose an unknown Filipino poet, Carlos Bulosan, who had emigrated to the United States at the age of sixteen. Bulosan’s essay showed how the Four Freedoms could inspire hopes for a better future as well as nostalgia for Rockwell’s imagined small-town past. Bulosan wrote of those Americans still outside the social mainstream— migrant workers, cannery laborers, black victims of segregation—for whom freedom meant having enough to eat, sending their children to school, and being able to “share the promise and fruits of American life.”

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