The Atlantic Charter was negotiated at the Atlantic Conference (codenamed Riviera) by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, aboard warships in a secure anchorage in Ship Harbour, Newfoundland, and was issued as a joint declaration on 14 August 1941. This document was drafted and signed while the British were fighting in World War II against Nazi Germany. The United States did not enter the War until the Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Potentially, it would detail the goals and aims of the Allied powers concerning the war. Additionally, it was used to bring the United States closer to the conflict while having Prime Minister Churchill agree to the apparently anti-colonialist terms of the document.
As a cover story, a flag day was enacted at Downing Street, filmed, and then broadcast while Churchill had already set off for the conference using, for the first part of the journey, the Great Central Railway. Disembarking at Thurso, he boarded HMS Prince of Wales at Scapa Flow. Though the ship had to make multiple course changes to avoid U-boats and lost her escorts to bad weather, Churchill found the voyage restful, reading novels, watching films and losing at backgammon to Harry Hopkins.
On the morning of Saturday, 9 August 1941 the Prince of Wales sailed into Placentia Bay down a line of US ships to the USS Augusta where Roosevelt—who, like Churchill, had left Washington under a cover story (he was supposedly in New England on a ten-day fishing trip)—his son and his chiefs of staff were waiting. On first meeting, Churchill and Roosevelt were silent for a moment until Churchill said "At long last, Mr. President.", to which Roosevelt replied "Glad to have you aboard, Mr. Churchill". Churchill then delivered to the president a letter from King George VI and made an official statement which, despite two attempts, a sound-film crew present failed to record.
Whilst the chiefs of staff and head of state and head of government met, Churchill's bodyguard Walter Thompson was shown round the ship and lunched with the president's bodyguard Mike Reilly. The following day, Sunday August 10, a church parade was held on Prince of Wales. From a lectern draped in British and U.S. flags, and with a congregation and naval clergy drawn from both nations, hymns selected by Churchill were sung with the sound of the patrolling US aircraft overhead in the background. Walter Thompson was personally presented to the president by Churchill on the last day of the conference.
As the Prince of Wales departed, sailors from both navies lined their ships, the national anthem of the United States was played and Churchill stood at the salute until the whole line of U.S. warships had been passed. The ship then set off for Iceland, on a convoy route. Passing twice through the three lines of a convoy so that it could be reviewed by Churchill, stopping at Iceland for the troops there to be reviewed, and making two more course changes against suspected U-boats, the ship then arrived back at Scapa Flow. Churchill took a train back to London, where he was met by his wife and some of his cabinet members.
The Atlantic Charter was an agreement made by Roosevelt and Churchill, which set goals for the postwar world. It agreed to seek no territorial gain from the war. It was made to keep "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live", and "a permanent system of general security".
In brief, the eight points were:
The Axis Powers interpreted these diplomatic agreements as a potential alliance against them. In Tokyo the Atlantic Charter rallied support for the militarists in the Japanese government, who pushed for a more aggressive approach against the US and Britain.
The agreement proved to be one of the first steps towards the formation of the United Nations.
Official statements and government documents indicate that Churchill and Roosevelt signed the Atlantic Charter. No signed copies are known to exist, however. H V Morton, who was with Churchill's party, states that no signed version ever existed. The document was threshed out through several drafts, says Morton, and the agreed text was telegraphed to London and Washington. The British War Cabinet replied with its approval and a similar acceptance was telegraphed from Washington. During this process, an error crept into the London text, but this was subsequently corrected.
Public opinion in the UK and Commonwealth was delighted with the principles of the meetings but disappointed in the fact that the US was not entering the war. Churchill himself admitted that he had hoped the US would finally decide to commit itself. On the other hand American public opinion was delighted with the principles but upset over the fact they seemed to be pushed even closer to war. Supporters and opponents alike had both views.
The acknowledgment that all peoples had a right to self-determination gave hope to independence leaders in British colonies (e.g., India) and elsewhere (e.g., Ho Chi Minh in French Indo-China) that they might expect progress on their demands for national autonomy. Whether this was the intent of either Churchill or Roosevelt is uncertain.
Several issues of how to implement the charter were left open.
The Charter was not a final version of political structure that would be established after successful defense against Nazi aggression. Churchill stated that he considered the Charter an "interim and partial statement of war aims designed to reassure all countries of our righteous purpose and not the complete structure which we should build after the victory.