What Was the Atlantic Charter? Definition and 8 Points

A Message of Hope to the Allies

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Atlantic Charter Conference

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The Atlantic Charter (signed August 14, 1941) was an agreement between the United States and Great Britain that established the vision of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill for a post-World War II world. One of the interesting aspects of the charter that was signed on August 14, 1941, was that the United States was not even a part of the war at the time. However, Roosevelt felt strongly enough about what the world should be like that he put forth this agreement with Churchill.

Fast Facts: The Atlantic Charter

  • Name of Document: The Atlantic Charter
  • Date Signed: August 14, 1941
  • Location of Signing: Newfoundland, Canada
  • Signatories: Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, followed by the governments in exile of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and the Free French Forces. Additional nations expressed support of the treaty through the United Nations.
  • Purpose of Document: To define the Allies' shared ethics and goals for a post-war world.
  • Main Points of the Document: The eight major points of the document focused on territorial rights, freedom of self-determination, economic issues, disarmament, and ethical goals, including freedom of the seas and a determination to work for "a world free of want and fear."

Context

Churchill and Franklin met aboard the HMS Prince of Wales in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland to respond to Germany's successful attacks on Britain, Greece, and Yugoslavia. At the time of the meeting (August 9-10, 1941) Germany had invaded the Soviet Union and was on the verge of attacking Egypt in order to close off the Suez Canal. Churchill and Franklin were also, simultaneously, concerned about Japan's intentions in Southeast Asia.

Both Churchill and Franklin had their own reasons for wanting to sign a charter. Both hoped that the charter, with its statement of solidarity with the Allies, would sway American opinion toward involvement in the war. In this hope, both were disappointed: Americans continued to reject the idea of joining the war until after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Eight Points

The Atlantic Charter was created to show solidarity between the United States and the United Kingdom in the face of German aggression. It served to improve morale and was actually turned into leaflets, which were airdropped over occupied territories. The eight main points of the charter were very simple:

"First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;"
"Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;"
"Third, 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;"
"Fourth, 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;"
"Fifth, 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;"
"Sixth, 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 lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;"
"Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;"
"Eighth, 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 measure which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments."

The points made in the Charter, while they were in fact agreed upon by the signators and others, were both more and less far-reaching than had been hoped for. On the one hand, they included phrases regarding national self-determination, which Churchill knew could be damaging to his British allies; on the other hand, they did not include any formal declaration of American commitment to the war.

Impact

The charter, while it did not precipitate American involvement in World War II, was a bold step on the part of Great Britain and the United States. The Atlantic Charter was not a formal treaty; instead, it was a statement of shared ethics and intent. Its purpose was, according to the United Nations, to be "a message of hope to the occupied countries, and it held out the promise of a world organization based on the enduring verities of international morality." In this, the treaty was successful: it provided Allied forces with moral support while also sending a powerful message to the Axis powers. In addition:

  • The Allied nations agreed to the principles of the Atlantic Charter, thus establishing a commonality of purpose.
  • The Atlantic Charter was a significant first step toward the United Nations.
  • The Atlantic Charter was perceived by the Axis powers as the beginnings of the United States and Great Britain alliance. This had the impact of strengthening the militaristic government in Japan.
  • Though the Atlantic Charter pledged no military support for the war in Europe, it had the impact of signaling the United States as a major player on the world stage. This was a position that the United States would firmly hold after World War II in its efforts to rebuild a war-torn Europe.