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The Atlantic Charter was a joint policy statement drawn up by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during a secret meeting held in early August 1941, which took place just off the coast of Newfoundland. They discussed a potential invasion of Europe, Lend-Lease supplies and plans for war with Japan, as well as drawing up the Charter1. Although it was seen as fairly significant at the time, as it suggested America’s impending entry to the war, it could be argued that the Charter was less meaningful than it was initially perceived to be.
The Charter was drafted by Roosevelt and Churchill, and a number of their advisors. At the time America was yet to join the war, making it unusual in that the neutral U.S. was taking part in negotiations with a fighting Britain. Bennett comments that ‘it was an extraordinary event’ for the countries ‘to link their futures in so public a way’2. During the 1930s, a series of Neutrality Acts were passed by Congress to keep America out of any future wars. Roosevelt was highly against these, but there were strong feelings of isolationism and economic nationalism in America, which F.D.R. was either unable or unwilling to fix3. However, even in their neutrality, America was playing the role of a ‘non-combatant’ ally to Britain, as shown from the Lend-Lease policy. The Atlantic Charter implied that America was planning on officially entering the war, as they could not be involved in making peace if they were never involved in the fighting. Churchill strongly believed that to win the war, American military intervention was needed. His motivations for the meetings and Charter were to establish America’s support for the Allies.
The purpose of the Atlantic Charter was largely to convince the American public that America needed to take more action, not just in the war but also on a more global scale in creating and maintaining peace afterwards. This appeared to work to a certain extent, as shown in the reaction of the American press to the Charter’s release. The Chicago Daily News thought that the clauses were ‘in line with the best American tradition’ and would be met ‘with little serious criticism’4. Roosevelt also wanted to appeal to those who expected him to continue the principles of Woodrow Wilson, with the belief ‘that foreign policy should be based on democratic values’5.
The clauses in the Charter made fairly clear the plans for creating peace in the post-war world. One of the most important points is that several of the clauses suggest the need for a new-style League of Nations. The eighth clause mentions ‘the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security’ while the fourth and fifth state a desire for equal trade and economic collaboration6. The Atlantic Charter did become a basis for the “Declaration of United Nations”7 in 1942, the first step towards the creation of the United Nations. The charter also implies that Germany would not be excluded from this8, the fourth clause asserting a hope for all states, ‘victor or vanquished,’ to enjoy equal trade9. The Charter bears resemblance to Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, from over twenty years earlier. This is reflected in the stress for self-determination in all states, allowing them the ability to choose how they are governed and not be under any forced rule.
In general, the Atlantic Charter held little real significance. Mainly, it heralded a vague intention of America to enter the war, which may have not been quite satisfactory for Britain, who wanted more concrete assurances. More significantly for the British, it ‘spelt the beginning of the end for Britain’s global role’10. Roosevelt made it clear that colonialism was not to be accepted. The charter is useful for looking at the methods President Roosevelt used in attempting to get the American public to support the war. The Atlantic…