The Atlantic Charter was a joint declaration issued during World War II (1939-45) by the United States and Great Britain that set out a vision for the postwar world. First announced on August 14, 1941, a group of 26 Allied nations eventually pledged their support by January 1942. Among its major points were a nation’s right to choose its own government, the easing of trade restrictions and a plea for postwar disarmament. The document is considered one of the first key steps toward the establishment of the United Nations in 1945.

Roosevelt and Churchill Discuss Atlantic Charter

From August 9 to August 12, 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) met aboard naval ships in Placentia Bay, off the southeast coast of Newfoundland, to confer on a range of issues related to World War II. It was the first time the two leaders had met as heads of their respective governments, and at that point, the United States had not yet entered the war (it would do so in December of that year following the bombing of Pearl Harbor). They met under utmost secrecy, evading all press to avoid the threat of being targeted by German U-Boats or isolationists bent on pulling the U.S. out of war.

Did you know? Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had a close relationship, and the U.S. president once sent the British leader a cable that read: “It is fun to be in the same decade as you.”

The document that resulted from the Roosevelt-Churchill meetings was issued on August 14, 1941, and became known as the Atlantic Charter. The document, which was not a treaty, stated that the two leaders “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.”

What Was Included In The Atlantic Charter?

The Atlantic Charter included eight common principles. Among them, the United States and Britain agreed not to seek territorial gains from the war, and they opposed any territorial changes made against the wishes of the people concerned. The two countries also agreed to support the restoration of self-government to those nations who had lost it during the war. Additionally, the Atlantic Charter stated that people should have the right to choose their own form of government. Other principles included access for all nations to raw materials needed for economic prosperity and an easing of trade restrictions. The document also called for international cooperation to secure improved living and working conditions for all; freedom of the seas; and for all countries to abandon the use of force.

Allied Nations Support Atlantic Charter

On January 1, 1942, at a meeting in representatives of 26 governments (the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, China, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Poland, South Africa, Yugoslavia) signed a “Declaration by United Nations” in which they pledged their support for the Atlantic Charter’s principles.

Text of Atlantic Charter

“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 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.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Winston S. Churchill”