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The Atlantic Charter, 1941

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

Suggested Sequencing


World War II effectively began in Europe in September 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, leading to France and Britain declaring war on Germany. However, Hitler rapidly partitioned Poland with the Soviet Union. With his eastern borders safe, he then successfully invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in May 1940, leaving Britain alone against the German war machine. Desperate for an ally, Britain began pressing the United States for assistance. In the summer of 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill met with President Franklin Roosevelt aboard a warship off the coast of Canada. Churchill hoped to convince the United States to join the war. Roosevelt refused to discuss this, but the two leaders did jointly release the Atlantic Charter. This agreement was not a treaty but a declaration of solidarity between the United States and Great Britain.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Who wrote this document?
  2. What was Churchill’s goal for meeting Roosevelt in 1941?
  3. Did he accomplish that goal? Explain.

Vocabulary Text
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.
aggrandizement(n): the action of making great or greater 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;
deprived(adj): suffering a lack of a specific benefit that is considered important 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;
endeavor(v): to try hard to do or achieve something 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;
collaboration(n): the action of working with someone to produce or create something 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;
traverse(v): to travel across or through 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.

Comprehension Questions

  1. According to the document, what was the purpose of the Atlantic Charter?
  2. How does this clause of the Atlantic Charter compare with Woodrow Wilson’s concept of “self-determination” from the World War I era?
  3. To what extent is disarming “threatening” nations realistic?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. In your own words, summarize the eight principles Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to work for in this document. Which principle do you think contrasts most significantly with the Nazi regime?
  2. Compare the principles set forth in this document with the principles set forth in Wilson’s Fourteen Points (see the Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, 1918 Primary Source).
  3. At the time of the writing of the Atlantic Charter, Britain possessed numerous colonies around the globe. Though the United States had far fewer, it also had colonies and protectorates in the Pacific and Caribbean. Does this document repudiate imperialism? Given this stance on imperialism, why do you think Churchill and Roosevelt signed it?

The Atlantic Charter