Atlantic Charter

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Atlantic Conference
Codename: Riviera
President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill seated on the quarterdeck of HMS PRINCE OF WALES for a Sunday service during the Atlantic Conference, 10 August 1941. A4816.jpg
Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Atlantic Conference
Host countryDominion of Newfoundland Red Ensign.svg  Newfoundland
Date9–12 August 1941
Venue(s) Naval Station Argentia
Cities Placentia Bay
Participants Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Winston Churchill
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Franklin D. Roosevelt
Precedes Moscow Conference
Key points
Atlantic Charter

The Atlantic Charter was a statement issued on 14 August 1941 that set out American and British goals for the world after the end of World War II.


The joint statement, later dubbed the Atlantic Charter, outlined the aims of United States and the United Kingdom for the postwar world as follows: no territorial aggrandizement, no territorial changes made against the wishes of the people (self-determination), restoration of self-government to those deprived of it, reduction of trade restrictions, global cooperation to secure better economic and social conditions for all, freedom from fear and want, freedom of the seas, and abandonment of the use of force, and disarmament of aggressor nations. The adherents to the Atlantic Charter signed the Declaration by United Nations on 1 January 1942, which was the basis for the modern United Nations.

The Atlantic Charter inspired several other international agreements and events that followed the end of the war. The dismantling of the British Empire, the formation of NATO, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) all derive from the Atlantic Charter.


Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill aboard HMS Prince of Wales in 1941 Prince of Wales-5.jpg
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill aboard HMS Prince of Wales in 1941

US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, discussed what would become the Atlantic Charter in 1941 during the Atlantic Conference in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. [1] They made their joint declaration on 14 August 1941 from the US naval base in the bay, Naval Base Argentia, that had recently been leased from Britain as part of a deal that saw the US give 50 surplus destroyers to the UK for use against German U-boats (the US did not enter the war as a combatant until the attack on Pearl Harbor, four months later). The policy was issued as a statement; as such there was no formal, legal document entitled "The Atlantic Charter". It detailed the goals and aims of the Allied powers concerning the war and the post-war world.

Many of the ideas of the charter came from an ideology of Anglo-American internationalism that sought British and American cooperation for the cause of international security. [2] Roosevelt's attempts to tie Britain to concrete war aims and Churchill's desperation to bind the US to the war effort helped provide motivations for the meeting which produced the Atlantic Charter. It was assumed at the time that Britain and America would have an equal role to play in any post-war international organization that would be based on the principles of the Atlantic Charter. [3]

Churchill and Roosevelt began communicating in 1939; this was the first of their 11 wartime meetings. [lower-alpha 1] [4] Both men traveled in secret; Roosevelt was on a ten-day fishing trip. [5] On 9 August 1941, the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales steamed into Placentia Bay, with Churchill on board, and met the American heavy cruiser USS Augusta, where Roosevelt and members of his staff were waiting. On first meeting, Churchill and Roosevelt were silent for a moment until Churchill said "At long last, Mr. President", to which Roosevelt replied "Glad to have you aboard, Mr. Churchill". Churchill then delivered to the president a letter from King George VI and made an official statement which, despite two attempts, the movie sound crew present failed to record. [6]

Content and analysis

Winston Churchill's edited copy of the final draft of the charter
Atlantic Charter (color).jpg
Printed copy of Atlantic Charter

The Atlantic Charter made clear that the United States was supporting the United Kingdom in the war. Both powers wanted to present their unity regarding their mutual principles and hopes for a peaceful postwar world and the policies they agreed to follow once the Germans had been defeated. [7] A fundamental aim was to focus on the peace that would follow, not specific American involvement and war strategy, although American involvement appeared increasingly likely. [8]

There were eight principal points of the charter:

  1. no territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom;
  2. territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned;
  3. all people had a right to self-determination;
  4. trade barriers were to be lowered;
  5. there was to be global economic co-operation and advancement of social welfare;
  6. the participants would work for a world free of want and fear;
  7. the participants would work for freedom of the seas;
  8. there was to be disarmament of aggressor nations, and a common disarmament after the war.

Although the third point clearly stated that all peoples have the right to decide their form of government, it failed to say what changes are necessary in both social and economic terms to achieve freedom and peace. [9]

The fourth clause, with respect to international trade, consciously emphasized that both "victor [and] vanquished" would be given market access "on equal terms." That was a repudiation of the punitive trade relations that had been established within Europe after World War I, as exemplified by the Paris Economy Pact.

Only two clauses expressly discuss national, social, and economic conditions necessary after the war, despite their significance.

Origin of name

When it was released to the public, the charter was titled "Joint Declaration by the President and the Prime Minister" and was generally known as the "Joint Declaration." The Labour Party newspaper Daily Herald coined the name Atlantic Charter, but Churchill used it in Parliament on 24 August 1941, which has since been generally adopted. [10]

No signed version ever existed. The document was threshed out through several drafts, and the final agreed text was telegraphed to London and Washington. Roosevelt gave Congress the charter's content on 21 August 1941. [11] He later said, "There isn't any copy of the Atlantic Charter, so far as I know. I haven't got one. The British haven't got one. The nearest thing you will get is the [message of the] radio operator on Augusta and Prince of Wales. That's the nearest thing you will come to it.... There was no formal document." [4]

The British War Cabinet replied with its approval and a similar acceptance was telegraphed from Washington. During the process, an error crept into the London text, but ir was subsequently corrected. The account in Churchill's The Second World War concluded "A number of verbal alterations were agreed, and the document was then in its final shape" and made no mention of any signing or ceremony. Churchill's account of the Yalta Conference quoted Roosevelt saying of the unwritten British constitution that "it was like the Atlantic Charter – the document did not exist, yet all the world knew about it. Among his papers he had found one copy signed by himself and me, but strange to say both signatures were in his own handwriting." [12]

Acceptance by Inter-Allied Council and by United Nations

The Allied nations and leading organizations quickly and widely endorsed the charter. [13] At the subsequent meeting of the Inter-Allied Council in London on 24 September 1941, the governments-in-exile of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia, together with the Soviet Union and representatives of the Free French Forces unanimously adopted adherence to the common principles of policy set forth in the Atlantic Charter. [14] On 1 January 1942, a larger group of nations, which adhered to the principles of the Atlantic Charter, issued a joint Declaration by United Nations, which stressed their solidarity in the defense against Hitlerism. [15]

Impact on Axis powers

World map of colonization at the end of the Second World War in 1945 Colonization 1945.png
World map of colonization at the end of the Second World War in 1945

The Axis powers interpreted the diplomatic agreements as a potential alliance against them. In Tokyo, the Atlantic Charter rallied support for the militarists in the Japanese government, which pushed for a more aggressive approach against the United Statsst and Britain.

The British dropped millions of flysheets over Germany to allay fears of a punitive peace that would destroy the German state. The text cited the Charter as the authoritative statement of the joint commitment of the UK and the US "not to admit any economical discrimination of those defeated" and promised that "Germany and the other states can again achieve enduring peace and prosperity." [16]

The most striking feature of the discussion was that an agreement had been made between a range of countries that held diverse opinions, who were accepting that internal policies were relevant to the international problem. [17] The agreement proved to be one of the first steps towards the formation of the United Nations.

Impact on imperial powers and imperial ambitions

The problems came not from Germany and Japan but from those of the allies that had empires and resisted self-determination, especially the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the Netherlands. Initially, Roosevelt and Churchill appeared to have agreed that the third point of Charter would not apply to Africa and Asia. However, Roosevelt's speechwriter, Robert E. Sherwood, noted that "it was not long before the people of India, Burma, Malaya, and Indonesia were beginning to ask if the Atlantic Charter extended also to the Pacific and to Asia in general." With a war that could be won only with the help of those allies, Roosevelt's solution was to put some pressure on Britain but to postpone until after the war the issue of self-determination of the colonies. [18]

British Empire

Public opinion in Britain and the Commonwealth was delighted with the principles of the meetings but disappointed that the US was not entering the war. Churchill admitted that he had hoped the US would decide to commit itself.

The acknowledgement that all people had a right to self-determination gave hope to independence leaders in British colonies. [19]

The Americans insisted that the charter was to acknowledge that the war was being fought to ensure self-determination. [20] The British were forced to agree to these aims but in a September 1941 speech, Churchill stated that the Charter was meant to apply only to states under German occupation, certainly not to the countries that were part of the British Empire. [21]

Churchill rejected its universal applicability when it came to the self-determination of subject nations such as British India. Mahatma Gandhi in 1942 wrote to Roosevelt: "I venture to think that the Allied declaration that the Allies are fighting to make the world safe for the freedom of the individual and for democracy sounds hollow so long as India and for that matter Africa are exploited by Great Britain...." [22] While self-determination was Roosevelt's guiding principle, he was reluctant to place pressure on the British in regard to India and other colonial possessions, as they were fighting for their lives in a war that the United States was not officially participating. [23] Gandhi refused to help the British or the American war effort against Germany and Japan in any way, and Roosevelt chose to back Churchill. [24] India already contributed significantly to the war effort by sending over 2.5 million men, then the largest volunteer force in the world, to fight for the Allies, mostly in West Asia and North Africa. [25]


Churchill was unhappy with the inclusion of references to the right to "self-determination" and stated that he considered the Charter an "interim and partial statement of war aims designed to reassure all countries of our righteous purpose and not the complete structure which we should build after the victory." An office of the Polish Government in Exile wrote to warn Władysław Sikorski that if the charter was implemented with regard to national self-determination, it would make the desired Polish annexation of Danzig, East Prussia and parts of German Silesia impossible, which led the Poles to approach Britain to ask for a flexible interpretation of the charter. [26]

Baltic states

During the war, Churchill argued for an interpretation of the charter to allow the Soviet Union to continue to control the Baltic states, an interpretationthat was rejected by the US until March 1944. [27] Lord Beaverbrook warned that the Atlantic Charter "would be a menace to our [Britain's] own safety as well as to that of the Soviet Union." The US refused to recognise the Soviet takeover of the Baltic states but did not press the issue against Stalin when he was fighting the Germans. [28] Roosevelt planned to raise the Baltic issue after the war, but he died in April 1945, before the fighting had ended in Europe. [29]


Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Flag of the United States.svg  United States

See also



  1. This was not their first meeting. They had attended the same dinner at Gray's Inn on 29 July 1918.


  1. Langer and Gleason, chapter 21
  2. Cull, pp. 4, 6
  3. Cull, pp 15, 21.
  4. 1 2 Gunther, pp. 15–16
  5. Weigold, pp. 15–16
  6. Gratwick, p. 72
  7. Stone, p. 5
  8. O'Sullivan and Welles
  9. Stone, p. 21
  10. Wrigley, p. 29
  11. "President Roosevelt's message to Congress on the Atlantic Charter". The Avalon Project. Lillian Goldman Law Library. 21 August 1941. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  12. Churchill, p. 393
  13. Lauren|, pp. 140–41
  14. "Inter-Allied Council Statement on the Principles of the Atlantic Charter". The Avalon Project. Lillian Goldman Law Library. 24 September 1941. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  15. "Joint Declaration by the United Nations". The Avalon Project. Lillian Goldman Law Library. 1 January 1942. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  16. Sauer, p. 407
  17. Stone, p. 80
  18. Borgwardt, p. 29
  19. Bayly and Harper
  20. Louis (1985) pp. 395–420
  21. Crawford, p. 297
  22. Sathasivam, p. 59
  23. Joseph P. Lash, Roosevelt and Churchill, 1939-1941, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1976, pp. 447–448.
  24. Louis, (2006), p. 400
  25. "Second World War Memorials". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Archived from the original on 2 January 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  26. Prażmowska, p. 93
  27. Whitcomb, p. 18;
  28. Louis (1998), p. 224
  29. Hoopes and Brinkley, p. 52


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