Seventy years ago, on February 20, 1943, Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.
Back on January 6, 1941, in his State of the Union Address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that every person deserved four fundamental freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. This speech inspired artist Norman Rockwell. In the summer of 1942, he attended a town meeting in Arlington, Vermont and observed one citizen standing in opposition to a new project – the only one opposed. Yet he was allowed to speak, and those who disagreed listened respectfully. Rockwell realized he had his subject matter, and the series of four paintings came together.
After the paintings appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, they were made into posters for the US Second War Loan Drive in April 1943.
In early 1943, the Second World War had already reached the turning point, with the Allies making progress in the Pacific, on the Eastern Front, and in North Africa, but the outcome of the war was still far from certain.
In the US, people were free to speak out in opposition to the government, but in Nazi-occupied Europe, such words would earn death. These posters reminded Americans what they were fighting for. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Rockwell’s stirring art reminded people then – as it reminds us now – what a precious freedom this is.
Why are you thankful for freedom of speech?