|This Week in American History
August 8-14, 1941
Roosevelt and Churchill Issue the Atlantic Charter
In the spring and summer of 1941, the prospects for any European nation to survive the Axis onslaught looked grim. Both Britain and then Russia were under heavy attack by the Nazis, and President Franklin Roosevelt felt it was necessary to have a personal meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in order to coordinate plans. To make the preliminary arrangements, Roosevelt sent Harry Hopkins to London as his personal representative. From there, Hopkins also travelled to Moscow to consult with Marshall Josef Stalin to determine what aid the USSR might need to continue its massive resistance to the recent Nazi invasion of its territory.
The meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill, and their respective civilian and military staffs, took place at sea Aug. 9 through Aug. 12, aboard the American cruiser Augusta and the British battleship Prince of Wales, near Argentia, Newfoundland. The meeting covered not only military matters, but also the principles for which the Allies were fighting and the kind of world which they would like to help build after the war was over.
In the months before he embarked for the meeting, President Roosevelt mapped out his ideas for a joint declaration which would be issued to provide a rallying point for the Allies as well as for the occupied nations. He emphasized that the post-war world should be based on principles of freedom, justice, security, and access to raw materials and natural resources.
The declaration of free access to raw materials was resisted by the British, who still hoped to reinstall their empire after the war. They insisted the declaration must be watered down, on the basis that they would have to obtain the agreement of all the British Dominions before they could commit to such a principle. The British were also anxious to include a strong condemnation of Japanese aggression and to formulate plans to curb further Japanese expansion, but Roosevelt felt this provision might incite Japan to launch immediate war and refused to include it in such a general declaration of principle which applied to all mankind.
Roosevelt and Churchill also wrote a letter to Stalin, suggesting a meeting on long-term policy and how the resources of Britain and America could be allocated to help the USSR fight the Nazis. Stalin answered affirmatively, and the British and American delegations arrived in Moscow at the end of September. The result was the signing of the First (Moscow) Protocol by the three powers, which laid out the Lend-Lease items which would be supplied to Russia.
The official statement was sent out by the ships' radio operators on Aug. 14, once each head of state was safely on his way homeward (it became known as the Atlantic Charter not because it applied to nations touching the Atlantic, but because of the location where it was written). After Japan and Germany declared war on the United States, other nations who were fighting the fascists also declared their support for the Atlantic Charter. On Jan. 1, 1942, the Ambassadors of the Allied Nations signed the Charter at the State Department and at the White House, and this became known as the Declaration of Washington.
On the first anniversary of the Atlantic Charter, President Roosevelt sent a letter to Prime Minister Churchill which said, "We based, and continue to base, our hopes for a better future for the world on the realization of these principles. A year ago today the Nations resisting a common, barbaric foe were units or small groups, fighting for their existence.
"Now, these Nations and groups of Nations in all the continents of the earth have united. They have formed a great union of humanity, dedicated to the realization of that common program of purposes and principles set forth in the Atlantic Charter, through world-wide victory over their common enemies. Their faith in life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and in the preservation of human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands, has been given form and substance and power through a great gathering of peoples now known as the United Nations."
"When victory comes, we shall stand shoulder to shoulder in seeking to nourish the great ideals for which we fight. It is a worth-while battle. It will be so recognized through all the ages, even amid the unfortunate peoples who follow false gods today."
President Roosevelt was acutely aware that the Nazi system was not merely political, but was a vicious economic system of looting those populations that fell under its sway. Therefore, he stressed the economic declarations of the Atlantic Charter, and on its second anniversary mentioned the Social Security system he had inaugurated as one example of the type of economic security which was needed worldwide. In closing his 1943 second anniversary statement, he wrote: "We are determined that we shall gain total victory over our enemies, and we recognize the fact that our enemies are not only Germany, Italy, and Japan: they are all the forces of oppression, intolerance, insecurity, and injustice which have impeded the forward march of civilization."
The Atlantic Charter read as follows:
"The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.
"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 the 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 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 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."
In a Presidential press conference on Dec. 22, 1944, a reporter from a newspaper unfriendly to Roosevelt asked whether the Allies were losing the purposes of the Atlantic Charter, "or that they are slipping away from us." After responding that it depended on which newspaper you were reading, Roosevelt went on to say that the Atlantic Charter stood as an objective. "A great many of the previous pronouncements that go back many centuries," he said, "have not been attained yet, and yet the objective is still just as good as it was when it was announced several thousand years ago.
"And I think that the objective of the Atlantic Charter is just as sound, if you believe in that kind of objectivesome people don't, some people laugh at itjust as valid as when it was announced in 1941.
"There are a lot of people who say you can't attain an objective or improvement in human life or in humanity, therefore why talk about it. Well, those people who come out for the Ten Commandments will say we don't all live up to the Ten Commandments, which is perfectly true, but on the whole they are pretty good. It's something pretty good to shoot for."
A reporter then asked, "Mr. President, did you mean to imply by that that we are as far from attaining the ends of the Atlantic Charter as the world was a thousand years ago?" Roosevelt responded: "Oh, no. Oh, no. The world goes a little bit by peaks and valleys, but on the whole the curve is upward; on the whole, over these thousands of years human life is on a great deal better scale than it was then. And we have got a long way to go.
"But things are better, and things are going to get better, if we work for it. There are some people who don't like to work for itsome people in this roomwho arewhat will I say?congenitally 'agin' that sort of thing. Well, that is part of the peaks and valleys."