President Franklin Roosevelt couched his 1941 State of the Union address in terms intended to sway public opinion away from isolationism and toward support for those European nations threatened by Nazism. The address, known as the "Four Freedoms" speech, suggested that Americans extend the freedoms enjoyed in the United States to the ravaged nations abroad.
The first of Roosevelt's freedoms was the freedom of speech and expression. Those who live in the U.S., historically a nation of dissenters, enjoy a degree of freedom of speech unmatched in human history. Native-born Americans see this as their birthright. Others uproot and immigrate to the U.S. to find it. Stamps issued during the nineteenth century reinforced the idea of those basic freedoms in the minds of Americans and those seeking freedom around the world.
The 2-cent newspaper and periodical stamp with its image of the Capitol's Statue of Freedom was first issued on January 1, 1875, by Continental Bank Note Company. It paid the minimum fee of two cents per pound of newspaper and periodical matter . . . but only if the material had a consistent mailing of at least once a week.
Seven variations of the stamp were printed. The first five have identical designs—the Continental Bank Note Company's 1875 thin hard paper issue and its 1875 Special Printing hard white paper issue; the American Bank Note Company's 1879 soft porous paper issue and its 1879 Special Printing intense black color issue; and finally the Bureau of Engraving and Printing's soft wove paper issue. The final two printings employed a design in which both the stamp frame and the vignette had been modified. The Statue of Freedom faces forward in these revised designs. Both printings were products of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and can be distinguished by their paper—unwatermarked in 1895; watermarked in 1896. Possibly more than 14,500,000 stamps of the 2-cent newspaper and periodical stamp were printed and issued. An additional 15,000 stamps of the 2-cent Special Printing Issues were printed and sold to the public.