War and Conflict

World War II

What was the Atlantic Charter?

On the eve of direct U.S. involvement in World War II (1939–45), President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) met with British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965) on board a ship off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. There the two leaders drew up a program of peace objectives known as the Atlantic Charter, which they signed on August 14, 1941. In addition to other peacetime goals, the charter roughly contained Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, which he had outlined in his speech to Congress on January 6, 1941, as the legislative body considered passage of the Lend-Lease Act. Roosevelt believed that freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear should prevail around the world.

Briefly, in the Atlantic Charter the two leaders stated that neither of their countries sought new territories; that they respected the right of the people of each country to choose their own form of government; that no country (“great or small, victor or vanquished”) would be deprived access to the raw materials it needed for its own economic prosperity; that countries should cooperate to improve labor standards and social security; that after the “final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want”; and that a “wider and permanent system of general security” would be necessary to ensure peace. (This last statement alludes to the future establishment of the United Nations.)


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