The Atlantic Charter – 80 Years Old and Still Setting a Just Course for Humanity

Many of us have not heard of the Atlantic Charter, agreed to in August 1941 by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt.  Most who have most likely have rather forgotten it.

The terms of the charter set forth the principles of an alliance of the U.K. and the U.S. in world affairs to act as stewards of a better life for all humanity.  First, they had to deal with dark powers, such as Adolf Hitler’s Reich.

At the end of World War II, the vision of the Atlantic Charter was incorporated into the Charter of the United Nations, the formation of NATO, the undertaking of the Cold War, and after 1989, the building of a just global order for all peoples.

The Atlantic Charter succinctly states the principles of “globalism,” which internationalism has been challenged by populist nationalisms as the normative high ground.

But the moral principles affirming the goals of the Atlantic Charter also, in time, came to infuse the Caux Round Table principles of moral capitalism and moral government – individuals are sovereign, moral agents, power is to be used responsibly, with due care, for the dignity and interests of others and public power is expressly to be used as a trust to secure general well-being.

Here is the text that Churchill and Roosevelt put before the world community:

Atlantic Charter
August 14, 1941

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 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.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Winston S. Churchill

Now, reading this brought to mind a blues song by Josh White, written first in 1941.  He sang this for President Roosevelt and at the 3:15 minute mark, referred to the Atlantic Charter as calling for an end to racial segregation in the U.S. and as affirming the equality of all people.  My dad used to play this for us in the 1950s.  It is called the “Free and Equal Blues.”

You can listen to it here.