The notion of liberty as an irrefutable right of every citizen is central to the history and culture of the United States. The phenomenon of freedom as a political statement and a crucial human value was established since the creation of the U.S., yet the subject matter was expanded on to the extent required to introduce the notion into the American value system by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Having been introduced into American society as WWII erupted, the concept of liberty as viewed through the political lens of Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed setting clear standards and determining the concept of freedom as a multifaceted yet clearly delineated notion. By promoting the principles of the Four Freedoms, Roosevelt managed to change the perception of justice on multiple social and cultural levels, altering attitudes toward immigrants and contributing to the profound change in social interactions.
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It is also noteworthy that the concept of liberty started to be developed for the U.S. and its citizens during one of the most challenging periods in American history, namely, during the Great Depression. At the identified critical yet formative point of the American identity’s development, the concept of democracy as a set of irrefutable rights granted to every citizen no matter what their ethnicity, gender, or age was, was formed, allowing one to link these concerns to the American evolution and the plight for political autonomy (Foner 781). The case of Nicola Sacco can be seen as the starting point of the introduction of Roosevelt’s definition of freedom as liberty for all American citizens. As Foner explains, “The Sacco-Vanzetti case laid bare some of the fault lines beneath the surface of American society during the 1920ies” (Foner 780).
It is truly remarkable how the idea of liberty as the foundational principle of building relationships within a democratic society started to emerge despite the presence of rather hostile attitudes toward immigrants and prejudices associated with them. As the phenomenon of immigration became increasingly widespread in American society, Lucas W. Parrish outlined the dangers of the phenomenon in his speech on immigration in 1921, mentioning the “foreign and unsympathetic element” (Foner 792). However, in approximately 25 years, the values of the U.S. population were shifted completely to the idea of empathy and support for all members of the American community, disregarding their ethnicity, beliefs, and gender (Foner 793). Specifically, the Four Freedoms that Roosevelt promoted as the foundational values and the definition of freedom as “free thought and intellectual integrity” could be defined as a huge breakthrough in building relationships within the American community (Foner 815). Therefore, Roosevelt’s definition of freedom contributed to shaping American society as a multifaceted and intricate one, which was why Roosevelt used his message so often.
The introduction of not only economic but also political and social aspects into the idea of liberty as the cornerstone of American society was one of the main features of Roosevelt’s philosophy. Thus, it would be reasonable to claim that the notion of social justice was introduced into the concept of freedom at the time (“Franklin Roosevelt’s Re-Nomination Acceptance Speech (1936)”). As Foner explains, the era in question is “a new age where no political freedom but social and institutional freedom is the most insistent cry” (839). Thus, the shift toward the social perspective associated with the notion of liberty as it was represented by Roosevelt could be regarded as the foundational change that would determine the course of development for American society in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! 3rd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.
“Franklin Roosevelt’s Re-Nomination Acceptance Speech (1936).” The American Yawp Reader, n.d., Web.