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Remarks at the 50th Anniversary Observance of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms Speech

January 30, 1991

Thank you very much, Speaker Foley. And may I salute the leaders of both Houses of Congress; pay my respects to Anne Roosevelt and to Arthur Schlesinger, Bill vanden Heuvel; and distinguished representatives of the Congress here; distinguished representatives of our World War II allies who are with us; certain ambassadors; and to the many friends.

It is an honor to be with you on this extraordinary day of reflection, rededication, and renewal, inspired by the stirring words of this great President.

You know, a day when we think of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation -- Franklin Roosevelt called these documents "milestones of human progress." And he added one more to the list that we've heard about -- the charge he named his Four Freedoms of Common Humanity. All of these landmark charters are optimistic. After all, that's what inspiration is about. But President Roosevelt knew that they are more than just idealistic goals. Together they are the moral North Star that guides us.

Two hundred years ago, perhaps our greatest political philosopher, Thomas Jefferson, defined our nation's identity when he wrote: All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Fifty years ago, our greatest American political pragmatist, Roosevelt, refined that thought in his four freedoms, when he brilliantly enunciated the 20th-century vision of our Founding Fathers' commitment to individual liberty. And he saw that liberty was made up as we've heard: freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. And for these 200 years this concept of human dignity has been a beacon drawing to these shores people from across the globe -- people like a boy named Quang Trinh, a Vietnamese teenager who almost died escaping from the country where he'd seen his mother killed, his father jailed, his brother's spirit broken. Quang fled the only life he'd known for freedom. He jumped into shark-infested waters for freedom, starved in delirium for freedom. And when he was rescued and told that he could enter the United States, he wept for joy.

Quang calls America freedom country. Imagine if every person across this world could call their homeland freedom country. We do -- and we do because the four freedoms have shaped the American character. They've molded who we are as individuals and as a nation. And they've made us realize that along with the freedoms that are our birthright come solemn responsibilities.

As we look around the world at the events of the past year, we see how these very same beliefs are bringing about the emergence of a new world order, one based on respect for the individual and for the rule of law -- a new world order that can lead to the lasting peace we all seek, where children will never have to repeat Quang's ordeal. And that's what's at stake -- a new chapter of human history.

And that's why an international coalition of 28 nations backed by the United Nations is standing up to the evil that challenges this ideal halfway around the world in the Middle East. We cannot, we must not, and we will not let that hope for a better world be threatened.

It is our commitment to the new world order that takes us to the sands and the seas of the Gulf. And we're there because we realize that each of Roosevelt's four freedoms leads us to the greatest of all human aspirations -- the freedom to live in peace.

We stand now, I really believe, at a defining moment in history, much as the man we honor today did a half a century ago. No one knew better than President Roosevelt what hard work freedom really is. And when he introduced first the four freedoms, Roosevelt's America was entering a war against the oldest enemy of the human spirit -- evil that threatened world peace.

But listen to the confidence of purpose that he expressed in that same speech: "Our national policy in foreign affairs has been based on a decent respect for the rights and dignity of all nations, large and small, and the justice of morality must and will win in the end." That charge is as true today in the Gulf as it was 50 years ago in Europe. And the triumph of the moral order must still be the vision that compels us.

So, we ask God to bless us, to guide us, and to help us through whatever dark nights we still may face. We hope that, in the sublime resolve of those who strive so that all may live in peace and freedom, we will show how this nation has forged its very soul; and that the liberty bell of the four freedoms will ring for all people in every nation of this world.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:33 a.m. in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. In his opening remarks, he referred to Thomas S. Foley, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Anne Roosevelt, granddaughter of Franklin D. Roosevelt; and historians Arthur Schlesinger and William vanden Heuvel, cochairmen of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute.

George Bush, Remarks at the 50th Anniversary Observance of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms Speech Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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