The document had no official name . It was just a "joint declaration". But the "joint declaration" was later referred to as the Atlantic Charter by Winston Churchill and the name stuck. It had been negotiated while both Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly convened in Newfoundland and at sea in August of 1941, on the Atlantic Ocean, aboard the USS Augusta.
The USA had not yet formally entered the war (the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred later, on December 7, 1941).
Still, in August 1941, the Germans were deep into Russia. The Japanese war machine was overwhelming Asia; Vietnam, Thailand, etc.
The Atlantic Charter (full text below) was an instrument of war, an oblique commitment to a military alliance between the United States and Great Britain (see hi-lighted sections below).
But Winston Churchill and Roosevelt approved the release of a "joint" Charter which also extolled several principles of a free and democratic society such as the dignity of every human being. This was remarkable for two leaders of states one besieged by a berserk Nazi war machine a few miles away across the English Channel and bombarding its capital city and its citizens. The other, the USA, on the verge of being thrust into the war and as mentioned in the Atlantic Charter, sensing that if the Nazis took England, North America would be next. Still, they raised a "joint" fist (if not a finger) at Hitler and took the time on the high seas, at their secret meeting, to articulate articles of proposed international law that reeked of democracy: freedom of the high seas and the right of every country to sovereignty.
Though influential everywhere especially as the Allies, by 1945, had won the war, the Atlantic Charter had a ripple-down effect in South Africa. There, black- colored Africans were being subject to a host of racial laws imposed on them by the white Afrikaan government such as no right to vote, the obligation to carry a “native pass” outside of their designated areas and a tax imposed on Africans only.
In 1948, South Africa unfortunately elected a racial Afrikaan party and that political party implemented strict laws and regulations, a legislative agenda known as apartheid.
Yet the words and the promise of the Atlantic Charter encouraged black Africans to continue their then-fledging, long march to freedom. Africans, then known as "coloured South Africans", were just then organizing under a political group known as the African National Congress (which included Nelson Mandela).
The Atlantic Charter "Press Release"
MESSAGE OF THE PRESIDENT TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:
Over a week ago I held several important conferences at sea with the British Prime Minister. Because of the factor of safety to British, Canadian and American ships and their personnel, no prior announcement of these meetings could properly be made.
At the close, a public statement by the Prime Minister and the President was made. I quote it for the information of the Congress and for the record: [the "Message" then referred to the Atlantic Charter, aka "joint declaration", see below)
The Congress and the President having heretofore determined through the Lend-Lease Act on the national policy of American aid to the democracies which East and West are waging war against dictatorships, the military and naval conversations at these meetings made clear gains in furthering the effectiveness of this aid.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister and I are arranging for conferences with the Soviet Union to aid it in its defense against the attack made by the principal aggressor of the modern world - Germany.
Finally, the declaration of principles at this time presents a goal which is worthwhile for our type of civilization to seek. It is so clear-cut that it is difficult to oppose in any major particular without automatically admitting a willingness to accept compromise with Nazism; or to agree to a world peace which would give to Nazism domination over large numbers of conquered nations. Inevitably such a peace would be a gift to Nazism to take (a) breath - armed breath - for a second war to extend the control over Europe and Asia to the American Hemisphere itself.
It is perhaps unnecessary for me to call attention once more to the utter lack of validity of the spoken or written word of the Nazi government.
It is also unnecessary for me to point out that the declaration of principles includes of necessity the world need for freedom of religion and freedom of information. No society of the world organized under the announced principles could survive without these freedoms which are a part of the whole freedom for which we strive.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The White House
Dated: August 2, 1941
The Atlantic Charter
GREAT BRITAIN - UNITED STATES
JOINT DECLARATION OF THE PRESIDENT AND THE PRIME MINISTER
(Released to the press by the White House (on) August 14, 1941)
The President of the United States and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, have met at sea. They have been accompanied by officials of their two governments, including high-ranking officers of their military, naval, and air services.
The whole problem of the supply of munitions of war … for the armed forces of the United States and for those countries actively engaged in resisting aggression has been further examined….
These conferences will also cover the supply problems of the Soviet Union. The President and the Prime Minister have had several conferences. They have considered the dangers to world civilization arising from the policies of military domination by conquest upon which the Hitlerite government of Germany, and other governments associated therewith, have embarked and have made clear the stress which their countries are respectively taking for their safety in the face of these dangers.
They have agreed upon the following joint declaration:
JOINT DECLARATION OF 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 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 measures which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.
]SIGNATURES: FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT & WINSTON S. CHURCHILL[
- 35 Am. J. Int'l L. Sup 191 (1941). See also U.S. Department of State Bulletin, Aug. 16, 1941, Vol. V, #112, p.125
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, URL as of Dec 21, 2013: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/library/.
- Mandela, Nelson, Long Walk to Freedom (London: Little, Brown and Company, 1994), pages 95-96