During a conversation in the pleasant setting of the British Prime Minister’s Downing Street garden on a sunny afternoon late in July, 1941, an American, Harry Hopkins, intimated that his President wanted to meet the Prime Minister in “some lonely bay or other.” Great Britain was beset by the hell of war, and most of the American people wanted to help her win, even if it meant going to war. Winston Churchill was quick to sense the value of a meeting with Franklin D. Roosevelt. His sense of the historic and his love for adventure led him promptly to assure his visitor that the Cabinet would certainly approve, and he himself “had the keenest desire to meet Mr. Roosevelt.” Churchill observed, “Moreover, a conference between us would proclaim the ever closer association of Britain and the United States, would cause our enemies concern, make Japan ponder, and cheer our friends.”
Arrangements for the meeting were speedily completed. Churchill, on July 25, wrote a note to the President stating that everything had been cleared for a secret rendezvous. Roosevelt’s plans succeeded in baffling his staff, but Washington was full of rumors. The Japanese Ambassador reported to Tokyo that the high Army and Navy officers were with Roosevelt on the way to meet Churchill. The President departed for a fishing cruise on the yacht Potomac, reporting periodically to the press that the “sailors” were well. He secretly boarded the United States cruiser Augusta at sea and proceeded to the north. At the same time, London wondered what was up since Churchill did not attend the debates in the House of Commons.
In the meantime, Hopkins, with Roosevelt’s permission, flew to Moscow to see Stalin. Hopkins gave assurance of America’s intention to give long term supply support and received first hand information on the resistance and aid requirements of the Soviet Union. When his business was completed, he returned to Britain to await Churchill’s arrival aboard H.M.S. Prince of Wales.
Early on the morning of August 4, the Prime Minister’s train from London arrived at Thurso, Scotland. Churchill and his entourage went from the train to the destroyer Oribi, which was to take them immediately to the Prince of Wales, waiting in the mist farther to the north at Scapa Flow. It was raining, and as he boarded the destroyer the Prime Minister was offered shelter. “No,” he said; “the bridge.” Thus the Argonaut began his voyage to Argentia.
Argentia is a peninsula extending into Placentia Bay, a wide, long inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in the southeastern part of Newfoundland. Britain had given it to the United States in 1940, for use as a military and naval base. The region had become a part of the British Empire by the terms of the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, following the defeat of the armies of Louis XIV by those of the Grand Alliance, under the leadership of England’s brilliant soldier, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. Winston Churchill, a descendant of the famous duke, aboard one of Britannia’s most powerful warships, was escorted by an American destroyer flotilla into wide Placentia Bay on August 9, 1941. As the Prince of Wales passed the Augusta the President and Prime Minister stood at attention and saluted, while the Star Spangled Banner echoed with God Save the King across the Atlantic waters.
While gazing at the great naval panoply formed by the assembled ships of the United States Fleet, the Prime Minister called back to mind the matters that had brought him to journey across the North Atlantic. There were the immediate problems of American intervention in the Atlantic area. The United States had sent troops to Iceland, Newfoundland, and other Atlantic bases and had extended naval patrols to Icelandic waters. Her President had publicly expressed concern for the safety of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands, while ordering an expedition to be made ready to prevent their falling into German hands. The delivery of supplies to support the Soviets had to be integrated with the requirements of Great Britain and the Empire. Of paramount importance in Churchill’s mind was the danger to Southeast Asia from Japan. He felt a definite need to establish a joint policy with the United States to resist further Japanese aggression. The Prime Minister wanted a forceful joint declaration of principles which would give hope to the conquered peoples and cheer to those engaged in the struggle with Hitler. Churchill sought to secure the participation of the United States in a twentieth century Grand Alliance. His purpose was not to secure large American armies to fight a vast land action on the European mainland, because he believed, at this time, that a coordinated sea and air strategic effort could provide the power to defeat Hitler.
The President, while watching the Prince of Wales move into the bay, again thought over the reasons for leading his nation to participate in a daring adventure of international politics. The man he was meeting had caused a furor just two weeks earlier by publicly stating that the United States was on the “verge of war.” However, the President was convinced that mankind’s continued progress depended on the English-speaking democracies. Roosevelt wanted an understanding on the new world structure while the war was still in its early stages. Moreover he sought to preclude secret agreements which most Americans believed had hindered making the peace after World War I. He thought the “haves” should seek to raise the standard of living of the “have- nots,” and he wished to insure the equal opportunity for all nations to enjoy the natural resources of the world. Of a more mundane character were such problems as Lend-Lease production and delivery schedules, the Far East situation, and the need for an exchange of tactical and strategic concepts by American and British staff officers. Roosevelt, in addition, sought to establish a personal working relationship with Churchill in order to facilitate joint activities and operations. They had been having “Winston” and “Franklin” telephonic visits since the preceding January, and now the President would be able to meet face to face the man who personified the resolute British spirit. The President wanted to help England resist invasion because he felt sure that such an invasion would definitely mean the active entry of the United States into the war.
On the morning of his arrival, the British Prime Minister went aboard the cruiser Augusta for brief ceremonies and introductions. Churchill was greeted with a presidential smile and exclamation: “At last— we’ve gotten together.” During the exchange of pleasantries Churchill presented the President with a personal letter from King George VI. In the evening the President was host to the British group at dinner. Hopkins wanted his chief to hear one of Churchill’s after-dinner talks on the war, and so Roosevelt invited his British friend to speak. Churchill, with his growling, defiant voice, placed emphasis on bombing, blockade, propaganda, and subversive activity as the means for defeating Hitler. He called for the United States Navy to further increase convoy operations. He urged a new international organization of nations, as well as the delivery of a joint ultimatum to Japan. It was during the course of this evening that the Prime Minister said to the Americans, “You must come in if you’re to survive.” The President later replied that he might wage war but might never declare war.
The military portion of the discussions got underway on August 11, with the British staff presenting a paper entitled General Strategy Review. An invasion of Europe was envisioned as using small, hard hitting armored forces. Their concept, agreeing with Mr. Churchill’s own thoughts, placed emphasis on blockade, bombing, and subversive activity and asked that the heavy bomber be given first priority in production. In fact, the British asked for more bombers than the United States was producing. The American staff included Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold R. Stark, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, and Deputy Chief of Staff General Henry H. Arnold and also the Commander in Chief of the U. S. Atlantic Fleet, Admiral E. J. King. They were unenthusiastic and noncommittal about these strategic views, particularly about the idea that American intervention would insure victory. The Americans became acquainted with British ideas for operations in French North Africa should American intervention become a fact. The basic difference in strategic thinking was that the British held to the traditional sea power doctrine, whereby naval superiority augmented by air strength would be used to bring victory with a minimum of land effort and loss. On the other hand, the Americans were conscious of their potentially overwhelming might in weapons and materiel and disliked vague ideas of a limited land offensive.
The staffs did discuss and reaffirm, however, the basic global concept worked out in Washington early in 1941 by their subordinates. That plan, known as ABC-1, placed priority on military effort in the Atlantic area, while stressing the defense in the Pacific. This idea was in complete harmony with the views the President expressed to his military and naval chiefs prior to the Washington staff conversations.
Also early in 1941 Hitler had conferred with the Japanese Foreign Minister Mat- suoka in Berlin. The German leader considered a conflict with the United States undesirable, but promised that if Japan became involved in such a war Germany would strike without delay.
Hitler had also discussed with Franco of Spain the question of Nazi entry into the Iberian Peninsula for an attack on Gibraltar and further movement into Africa and across Atlantic waters to the Azores. The Azores were desired by Hitler to afford Germany a base facility from which to bomb America at some future time. Early in 1941 Roosevelt, probably acting on the basis of intelligence reports of these plans, ordered the armed services to prepare for an expedition to the Azores. He publicly announced that he considered the Azores and Cape Verde Islands “island outposts of the New World,” and declared that their occupation by another power would be a threat to the safety of the United States and other nations of the Western Hemisphere. Hitler, knowing of the President’s plans, was determined to move into Spain and North Africa as soon as the United States occupied Spanish or Portuguese islands.
Dr. Antonio Salazar, Prime Minister of Portugal, had sent President Roosevelt a letter stating that he would move his government to the Azores in an emergency and would expect protection from Portugal’s old ally, Britain, but if this were not possible he would be willing to accept aid from the United States. At the Atlantic Conference, the letter was shown to the British leader, and it was agreed that the way was cleared for an American expedition to the Azores. The Prime Minister revealed his own plans for operations in that area of the Atlantic. A German move into the Iberian Peninsula was expected in the event of a Russian collapse or winter stalemate. This action would neutralize Gibraltar, and the British contemplated moving into Spain’s Canary Islands and using them to replace Gibraltar as a naval base. It was beyond the immediate military capability of the British to protect the Azores.
After the exchange of this basic information, the President and Prime Minister developed a final plan of procedure. Immediately after his return, Mr. Churchill was to “notify Dr. Salazar that the British Government could not conveniently assist in the defense of the Azores” and would suggest that the United States be asked for aid. Upon the receipt of such a request, the United States would send armed forces to occupy the Azores and would invite Brazil to join the expedition. When these forces were dispatched, the Royal Navy was to concentrate between the Azores and the mainland of Europe to prevent an Axis countermove.
Roosevelt and Churchill weighed the international and political implications of these operations and concluded that there was no better course to pursue. The President felt that his action would be justified if the Portuguese islands were threatened. Churchill pointed out that they would most assuredly be threatened because the Germans would feel it necessary to counter the British moves. Roosevelt confided to the Prime Minister that he had strong forces ready for this action, and he would aid Portugal even if a threat developed as a result of countermoves by Germany. The American military men doubted the necessity of such a move, but the Army agreed to furnish the necessary troops. Fortunately, events were to make the expedition to the Azores unnecessary.
The tidings of Soviet resistance that Hopkins brought with him from Moscow inspirited the conferees. While in the Russian capital, Hopkins and the British Ambassador had agreed that a communication should be sent to Stalin from the Atlantic meeting, and a draft message had been prepared and brought to the ocean rendezvous by Hopkins. On the last day of the conference, August 12, the President and Prime Minister sent a joint message of cheer to the Soviet leader and asked him to set up a conference in Moscow to make arrangements for specific aid for his embattled country.
While giving consideration to Atlantic problems, the menace of Nippon bore heavily on the minds of the two conferees. The surge of Nazi victory in Europe had presented to Japan a golden opportunity to fulfill her previously thwarted desires in the Orient. Hitler had been needling Japan against Russia, as well as trying to whet her appetite for Singapore. From the beginning of the Newfoundland meeting the conversations between Roosevelt and Churchill were concerned with the Japanese threat. Without reaching a decision, the question of a British declaration of war was considered should Japan attack Russia. The United States was asked to come into a Far Eastern war, even if not attacked, to make victory sure. Churchill offered a strongly worded draft of a warning to be given simultaneously by the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. The proposed parallel warning made reference to the possibility of war with Japan if there were “further encroachment by JAPAN in the South West Pacific. . . . ” It was intended that aid be given “if any Third Power becomes the object of aggression by JAPAN. ...” He suggested that Russia be kept informed and possibly invited to join the parallel warning.
Finding the President noncommittal on the warning, the Prime Minister pressed his arguments with the American Under Secretary of State, Sumner Welles, in the hope that he would be able to influence a presidential decision. After a deeply moving expression of unity of faith at the Sunday church services on board the Prince of Wales, the Americans enjoyed a lunch of grouse with their hosts. Roosevelt addressed the British naval officers in the wardroom, where two shell holes in the ceiling served as reminders of the recent engagement with the German Bismarck. Churchill spoke privately to Welles as he was leaving the ship to accompany the President back to the Augusta. The British leader emphasized that a warning to Japan at this time was of the utmost importance. He explained that war was inevitable if the Japanese southward expansion continued. If that war did come, the remaining lifelines between the British Dominions and the British Isles would surely be destroyed unless, of course, the United States entered the war. Welles recorded, “He pled with me that a declaration of this character participated in by the United States, Great Britain, the Dominions, the Netherlands, and possibly the Soviet Union would definitely restrain Japan.”
At the conferences on Monday, August 11, the persevering Churchill again brought up the proposed simultaneous warnings. Roosevelt gave him copies of the Japanese communication to the United States, which had been given to Secretary of State Hull by the Japanese Ambassador on August 6. The Japanese had asked the United States to end its economic sanctions as a condition for the cessation of further Japanese advances in Asia. The conferees agreed that this condition was unacceptable because Nippon had recently invaded Indo-China. Roosevelt stated that upon his return to Washington he intended to see the Japanese Ambassador and, in the interest of preventing war, he would again propose that Japan stop its advances and withdraw from French Indo-China. The United States, in exchange, would seek to explore the possibilities for reaching an amicable modus vivendi. If Japan refused this offer, the United States would take necessary steps to look after its interests, realizing that this might lead to war. In other words, the United States was to take unilateral action in warning Japan. Welles, however, did not believe that the warning was broad enough, as it pertained only to the Southwest Pacific and would not apply to further Japanese moves against China, Siberia, or the colonies of the Netherlands to the south. The two leaders agreed to adopt the American Under Secretary’s suggestion and to broaden the policy to include the entire Pacific area.
The relationship to Russia and China of such a warning to Japan was considered, but no decision was reached on whether or not the Soviet Union should be advised of the forthcoming action on the part of the United States. The British Permanent Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Alexander Cadogan, and Welles agreed that some effort should be made to keep China informed. However, it was feared that Chungking, in its own interest, might make the warning public, and such a warning could be used by Japanese leaders to inflame the Japanese people, making any peaceful settlement impossible. Because of this, they decided to inform the Chinese that every effort was being made to assist them but agreed not to provide them with the specific details.
The Prime Minister expressed the belief that the President’s proposal would adequately cover the situation, provide an element of face saving for Japan, and still be a definite warning to the Japanese. He promised that the British Empire would “make it clear that if Japan becomes involved in war with the United States she will also be at war with Britain and the British Commonwealth.” This was a promise Churchill was to restate to the world within a month and to fulfill within four.
President Roosevelt received Churchill’s authorization to tell the Japanese that the British had no aggressive intentions in Thailand. It was also agreed that the President could state that the British supported the proposals for the neutralization of Indo- China. Roosevelt believed these actions would delay the aggression of Japan for at least thirty days. The Prime Minister hoped that the warning might avert war altogether.
Significantly, Churchill had proposed parallel warnings of precise phraseology, and he also suggested that Russia be kept informed. Roosevelt countered with a proposal for unilateral action by the United States in warning Japan. He did not agree to any specific wording of this warning but did promise that a warning would be given. The idea of parallel action was discarded. The President had promised definitely to use hard language, but Churchill feared what actually happened later—that the United States State Department would tone down the warning.
Thus, the Atlantic Conference took up the vital problems facing the great English-speaking democracies and the world. Their leaders personally undertook the task of reaching mutual understandings to facilitate future operations in joint matters. Together they developed the declaration of principles, afterward known as the Atlantic Charter, which became the rallying point for the United Nations.
At the President’s dinner on the first night of the conference, Roosevelt and Churchill discussed the idea of a joint declaration of principles to be issued upon the termination of their meeting. The initiative had been taken by Churchill, who had already drafted a declaration and had discussed it with Hopkins on the voyage to Argentia. Though there had been no previous exchange of views, Roosevelt was glad to hear the proposal because it coincided with his own plans for some kind of public announcement declaring the objectives of the United States in international relations and containing a statement on principles of moral and human decency in a darkening world. It was agreed that Britain’s Cadogan would present the British draft Sunday morning after divine services, and it would be the basis for the subsequent development of a final joint declaration.
As the sands of the Atlantic Conference hour glass ran out, the two past masters of democratic statedraft molded a declaration of principles to serve as goals for a future world structure. The declaration was important because it contained the seed for other international understandings. The President and Prime Minister had differences of opinion which centered on the preamble written by Churchill, questions of trade and raw materials, the problems of future disarmament and international organization, and the form in which the announcement of the meeting would be released to the world.
Roosevelt preferred not to insert issues into the declaration because he did not believe American public opinion was ready for strong statements about safety from German aggression for all peoples. Consequently, the preamble was toned down, even to deleting references to defending the rights of freedom of speech and thought in the world. This was done because they had already been abrogated in the Axis nations, and it was felt that the Congress would not favor a pledge that inferred immediate military action in defense of those rights in areas already conquered by the Axis.
The most involved and heated discussions were over the trade and raw materials article which was number four of the declaration. The Prime Minister’s draft read, “Fourth, they will strive to bring about a fair and equitable distribution of essential produce, not only within their territorial boundaries, but between the nations of the world.” Welles, in rephrasing this point, spoke out against American tariff walls and the British system of empire trade agreements, worked out in Ottawa in 1932. After modifying this redraft, the President presented it for discussion at the August 11, meeting. Roosevelt’s statement read, “Fourth, they will endeavor to further the enjoyment by all peoples of access, without discrimination and on equal terms, to the markets and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity.”
In the meantime, Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Supply, had arrived from London. When he read the text of the fourth principle, he strongly protested because it would have the effect of abrogating the Ottawa Agreements. He pointed out that the Prime Minister of Great Britain was not authorized to nullify these empire agreements. It was suggested that a phrase such as, “with due respect for their existing obligations,” be inserted.
When the fourth principle again became the topic for discussion at a meeting in Roosevelt’s cabin on Monday, August 11, Churchill pointedly asked if it were meant to apply to the Ottawa Agreements. Welles replied affirmatively. The Prime Minister, although personally a free trade advocate, stated that he could not accept it without its being referred to the Dominions. Welles maintained that the battering down of trade obstacles was the core of the matter, and such had been the goal of American policy for the preceding nine years. Roosevelt injected that it was important to let the German and Italian people know that they could expect fair play after the war. Churchill forcefully countered that the English experience in adhering to free trade for eighty years had been met with “ever-mounting American tariffs.” He went on to say that England had allowed the fullest importations into all colonies and all she “got in reciprocation was successive doses of American Protection.” Churchill then suggested that the phrase, “with due respect for their existing obligations,” be added. After Welles voiced opposition to further modification, Hopkins spoke up, advancing the thought that it was inconceivable to delay the announcement of principles pending reference to the Dominions. So he suggested that Cadogan and Welles get together later and try to work out a new wording.
As Welles was preparing to go to an afternoon meeting with Cadogan on board the Prince of Wales, he received a note from the President which read in part, “Time being of the essence I think I can stand on my own former formulas—to wit: access to raw materials.” The note went on to state that this would omit the subject in conflict. Churchill’s phrase was added. Hopkins had had his talk with Roosevelt. Consequently, Welles interposed no further objections to the fourth principle during his meeting with Cadogan.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister had sent a message to London with the tentative joint declaration and the suggested amendments. The Cabinet replied promptly that it welcomed the proposal for a declaration but suggested a further revision of the fourth point. On the last day of the conference Churchill offered the Cabinet’s suggestion, but Roosevelt did not wish to reopen the matter. The British Cabinet had also suggested an additional paragraph to deal with social security and standards of living. The President gladly accepted this suggestion, and it was inserted as the fifth article.
The last of the eight principles called for abandonment of the use of force, disarming aggressors, and the establishment of a permanent system of general security. Both Churchill and Welles had included provision for an international organization in their respective drafts, but Roosevelt had refused to accept them because he believed peace should be firmly established by an Anglo- American world policing arrangement before any new league system was tried. Churchill pleaded that his people would expect a reference to future world organization in any declaration. Roosevelt remained adamant because of his concern about suspicion and opposition at home. Cadogan pointed out that it would be a mistake to concentrate on the transition period from war to peace and to omit a provision for the later establishment of an organization for permanent peace. Again, Hopkins interceded and expressed the view that a majority of the American people would favor an organization for world peace after the war. A compromise phrase, providing for “establishment of a wider and more permanent system of general security,” was finally inserted.
President Roosevelt was insistent that the declaration contain a pledge to disarm future aggressors. Welles was quick to point out that such a statement meant that the United States would go to war to enforce disarmament, even with “the Soviet Union if that country should later once more embark upon aggression on its neighbors.” The President answered that this was what he meant, because he believed the American people after the war would enthusiastically support the disarmament of aggressor nations.
The form of the announcement of the Roosevelt-Churchill meeting presented a difference over which the two leaders tussled. The man with the famed cigarette holder believed that identical statements should be issued to the effect that Lend-Lease was discussed; that there were no future United States commitments except as authorized by Lend-Lease; and that certain principles for a better world were agreed upon and would be quoted verbatim. The man with the ubiquitous cigar strongly disagreed with the issuance of a statement relating to “no” commitments. Roosevelt maintained that such a statement was necessary because of his domestic political situation. The Prime Minister indicated to the President that he understood, but such an announcement would be good for German morale and discouraging to the occupied peoples, as well as to the people of Britain. He called for a positive wording of the statements to be released and pointed out that the President would guard himself by bringing in a reference to the Lend-Lease Act. Roosevelt agreed. There were no formal documents drawn up or signed. A statement by the President and the Prime Minister was released in forty languages to the world through the press on August 14, 1941.
Many parallels were later drawn between the Fourteen Points of President Wilson and the Eight Principles of Roosevelt and Churchill. That there are striking similarities is understandable. The basic ideals by which the English-speaking peoples, and in fact that part of the world embracing western culture, hope to guide the conduct of nations would not change in the short period of two and a half decades. No doubt Roosevelt was impressed with the Fourteen Points because he had been a part of the Wilson administration and had helped to carry the Democratic Party standard in the “solemn referendum” of 1920. Churchill, as a member of the British Government during the first World War, had witnessed the impact of Wilson’s pronouncements. Writing in 1929, he observed that the Fourteen Points had “played an important part in holding the Western Democracies firmly and unitedly to the prosecution of the war.” In World War II the Atlantic Charter accomplished this same end, as evidenced by the action of the allied nations, including the Soviet Union, in adhering to the Charter at London in September, 1941, and in basing the later United Nations Declaration on the eight Roosevelt-Churchill principles.
Churchill considered the Atlantic Conference symbolic of the underlying unities which stir and, “at decisive moment rule the English-speaking peoples” in the world. It symbolized, he said, ‘‘something even more majestic, namely, marshalling of the good forces of the world against the evil forces.”
At the Atlantic Conference the President and Prime Minister had reached understandings for the future, had placed Anglo- American relations on a personal basis, had created the modern Grand Alliance, and had formulated their Peace Aims. After a warm handshake and a parting word of cheer, Winston Churchill turned and crossed the deck with a determined step, past the Officer of the Deck, past the sideboys and down the gangway. In the background the band was playing God Save the King, while Franklin D. Roosevelt stood at attention, holding his hat over his brave heart and watching after his friend. They were destined to meet again to devise Grand Strategy—after Pearl Harbor.