The Atlantic Charter
The Atlantic Charter
By: Franklin D. Roosevelt and
Date: August 12, 1941
About the Author: Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was the thirty-second president of the United States of America, serving from 1933–1945. Winston Church (1874–1965) served as the Prime Minister of Britain from 1940–1945.
Prior to Japanese attacks on the U.S. military facilities at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 6, 1941, U.S. foreign policy was often characterized as an isolationist. The senate refused to allow the U.S. to join the League of Nations, and those who developed foreign policy condemned U.S. intervention into the Western hemisphere. Following the devastation of World War I (1915–1918), most Americans were opposed to a military build up and supported the disarmament that occurred after the war. In Europe, however, Hitler began to reveal his war plans by 1938. In 1939, the U.S. had declared its neutrality in the conflict that had begun to spread across Europe. By 1940, Franklin Roosevelt had been reelected U.S. president and the U.S. Congress passed a conscription bill. In Europe, France signed an armistice with Germany, and Britain became the target of daily air raids. Without popular support to join the war, the U.S. offered its support to the allied nations in the form of the Lend-Lease Act and U.S. Naval escorts of supply convoys en route to Britain. The prime minister of Britain, Winston Churchill, needed the U.S. to become more active in the war effort, and in August of 1941, Churchill met with President Roosevelt at a secret meeting. Prior to this meeting, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill had corresponded, but had never met fact-to-face.
Both Roosevelt and Churchill went to great lengths to come to the meeting and each came with a different agenda. Roosevelt traveled aboard the presidential yacht, Potomac, and then aboard the USS Augusta to Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. Churchill crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard the HMS Prince of Wales to the secret meeting weeks after the vessel engaged and sunk the German battleship Bismarck. Churchill arrived at the meeting with the first draft of what would become the Atlantic Charter. For Churchill, the charter would serve as a roadmap to guide the struggle against Nazi Germany. Roosevelt sought to end the colonial era. Americans mistrusted some British motives, considering them to be a continuation of the colonial Old World era. As such, the scope of the charter was expanded to encompass the principles for peace following the war.
Each leader was required to compromise on key components to the charter. Churchill was forced to accept Roosevelt's goal of ensuring freedom of the seas. Churchill was also forced to broaden the scope of the charter to include language about self-determination for all peoples, fueling the movement to grant independence to British colonies. Roosevelt compromised on the goal of creating an international organization. The secret treaties in Europe that predated the World Wars led the U.S. to adopt a policy of isolationism. The League of Nations, formed after World War I, was highly unpopular within the U.S. and as such, the U.S. failed to join the organization, leading to its subsequent demise. Seeking to avoid the perception that the charter would merely revive the League of Nations, Roosevelt agreed to the establishment of a system of general global security.
THE ATLANTIC CHARTER
The President of the Untied States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right make known certain common principles in the national policies of the respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.
- Their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other.
- They desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.
- They respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.
- They will endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity.
- They desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security.
- After the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.
- Such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance.
They believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measures which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Winston S. Churchill
August 14, 1941
The conference convened on August 9, 1941, and concluded with a press conference three days later announcing the charter. The agreement was dubbed the Atlantic Charter by the London Daily Herald. The main goal for Churchill was to involve the U.S. more deeply in the war. However, the signing of the treaty did not result in an immediate declaration of war on Germany by the U.S. Although the charter recognized Nazi Germany as a mutual enemy, the U.S. would not become officially involved in the war until after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Although the charter did not bring the U.S. onto the battlefield as a British ally, it did solidify the relationship between the U.S. and Britain and endorsed aims for peace. The eight points to the charter served as an affirmation of common principles held by the two nations. In addition, the charter laid the framework for the creation of the United Nations after the war. Formed in 1945, the United Nations was intended to provide a forum for international negotiation that would bring the world closer to the ideals of the charter.
Haskew, Michael. "The Atlantic Charter laid the foundation for the United Nations." World War II. September 1, 2001.
Schlesinger, Arthur. "The Atlantic Charter: Design for Tomorrow?" New York Times. August 11, 1991.