Declaration by the United Nations Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

This declaration was issued by British prime minister Winston Churchill and US president Franklin D. Roosevelt at the end of the Arcadia Conference, a meeting where the two nations, newly united in their war with the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy, discussed not only war strategy, but the future of the postwar world. Twenty-four other nations joined the United States and Great Britain in the signing of this document, which pledged their resources to the cause of defeating the Axis powers and the protection of freedom in their own countries and throughout the world. This declaration also looked ahead to the world after the war ended, and to the creation of a peacekeeping body to protect human rights. By subscribing to the principles of the Atlantic Charter, these nations agreed to a wide range of goals for the world, from economic advancement and cooperation to disarmament and self-government. In 1945, fifty nations built on this declaration to draw up the United Nations Charter, which established the principles that guide the United Nations today.

Summary Overview

This declaration was issued by British prime minister Winston Churchill and US president Franklin D. Roosevelt at the end of the Arcadia Conference, a meeting where the two nations, newly united in their war with the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy, discussed not only war strategy, but the future of the postwar world. Twenty-four other nations joined the United States and Great Britain in the signing of this document, which pledged their resources to the cause of defeating the Axis powers and the protection of freedom in their own countries and throughout the world. This declaration also looked ahead to the world after the war ended, and to the creation of a peacekeeping body to protect human rights. By subscribing to the principles of the Atlantic Charter, these nations agreed to a wide range of goals for the world, from economic advancement and cooperation to disarmament and self-government. In 1945, fifty nations built on this declaration to draw up the United Nations Charter, which established the principles that guide the United Nations today.

Defining Moment

On December 7, 1941, the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked by the Japanese. The United States declared war on Japan the following day in a joint session of Congress, followed by Germany's declaration of war on the United States on December 11. Though the United States had remained officially neutral until the attack on Pearl Harbor, it had provided every material assistance possible to Great Britain and its allies, and prepared for what seemed like an inevitable entry into the war. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill worked closely together to discuss war strategy and postwar goals.

In August 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill met in person for the first time, though they had been in regular communication since 1939, and together they issued the Atlantic Charter, a policy statement that defined their shared goals for the postwar world. The charter had eight points: They agreed that no territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom, and that borders and territory should be determined by the people in those territories. People of the world had a right to self-determination, meaning they have a right to choose whether they want to be independent or part of some other state. Trade barriers should be reduced and economic and social welfare promoted. Nations should also work toward freedom from hunger and insecurity, freedom of the seas, and disarmament. Since the United States was not at war when the Atlantic Charter was issued, its scope was broadened and its aims were confirmed upon its entry in December 1941.

This declaration used the term “United Nations” to describe the nations allied against Germany and her allies. These nations described themselves as the “Allies,” and increasingly used the term “United Nations” to refer to the formation of postwar international regulatory and peacekeeping organizations. The structure and mission of such a body was discussed by British foreign secretary Anthony Eden and US secretary of state Cordell Hull at the First Quebec Conference in August 1943, the result of which was a call for “a general international organization, based on the principle sovereign equality of all nations.” In October of the same year, a similar declaration was issued at the Foreign Ministers Conference in Moscow. In November 1943, Roosevelt laid out his plans for the United Nations—an international organization with an executive committee of ten members, and an assembly of representatives of all member states. The Allies formed groups to work on various aspects of economic and social growth such as the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, founded in November 1943; the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), founded in April 1944; and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, founded in July 1944. Beginning in April of 1945, representatives of fifty nations met in San Francisco to finalize the details of the United Nations organization and complete its charter. The United States approved the United Nations Charter on July 28, 1945, and the United Nations was officially established in October 1945 after twenty-nine nations ratified the charter. Both East and West Germany were admitted as members of the United Nations in 1973.

Author Biography

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. He studied law and entered politics in 1910 as a state senator. In 1912, Roosevelt supported Woodrow Wilson's candidacy at the Democratic National Convention, and when Wilson won, he appointed Roosevelt as assistant secretary of the Navy, a position he held from 1913 to 1920. Roosevelt held the governorship of New York from 1928 to 1932, when he was elected president of the United States, a position he held until his death in office in 1945.

Winston Churchill was born in 1874 in Oxfordshire, England. After a career as a military officer, Churchill gained a measure of fame as a journalist and war correspondent. Upon his return to England, he held a variety of political positions during and after World War I. During the 1930s, Churchill denounced the rise of the Nazi Party and advocated for a strong British military. In 1939, he was appointed first lord of the admiralty, and on May 10, 1940, Churchill became prime minister, a position that he held until 1945 and again from 1951 until 1955. Churchill died in 1965 at the age of ninety.

Historical Document

A Joint Declaration by the United States, the United Kingdom, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, China, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Poland, South Africa, Yugoslavia

The Governments signatory hereto,

Having subscribed to a common program of purposes and principles embodied in the Joint Declaration of the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland dated August 14, 1941, known as the Atlantic Charter.

Being convinced that complete victory over their enemies is essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands, and that they are now engaged in a common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world, DECLARE:

(1) Each Government pledges itself to employ its full resources, military or economic, against those members of the Tripartite Pact: and its adherents with which such government is at war.

(2) Each Government pledges itself to cooperate with the Governments signatory hereto and not to make a separate armistice or peace with the enemies.

The foregoing declaration may be adhered to by other nations which are, or which may be, rendering material assistance and contributions in the struggle for victory over Hitlerism.

Done at Washington

January First, 1942

[The signatories to the Declaration by United Nations are as listed above.]

The adherents to the Declaration by United Nations, together with the date of communication of adherence, are as follows:

Mexico June 5, 1942

Philippines June 10, 1942

Ethiopia July 28, 1942

Iraq Jan. 16, 1943

Brazil Feb. 8, 1943

Bolivia Apr. 27, 1943

Iran Sept. 10, 1943

Colombia Dec. 22, 1943

Liberia Feb. 26, 1944

France Dec. 26, 1944

Peru Feb. 11, 1945

Chile Feb. 12, 1945

Paraguay Feb. 12, 1945

Venezuela Feb. 16, 1945

Uruguay Feb. 23, 1945

Turkey Feb. 24, 1945

Egypt Feb. 27, 1945

Saudi Arabia Mar. 1, 1945

Lebanon Mar. 1, 1945

Syria Mar. 1, 1945

Ecuador Feb. 7, 1945

Document Analysis

This declaration begins with a list of the allied nations that issued it. The nations are presented in alphabetical order, with the exception of the four most powerful nations: the United States, United Kingdom, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and China are listed first. The nations listed agreed on the “common program of purposes and principles” outlined in the Atlantic Charter, a statement that makes it clear that this is a document whose purpose is not just the establishment of an alliance during wartime, but a statement of purpose that reached far beyond short-term relationships. The Atlantic Charter is a document that laid out “common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.” This meant an acceptance of common goals such as economic cooperation and disarmament.

In December 1941, however much Roosevelt and Churchill wished to focus on the postwar world, their immediate concern was victory over the Axis powers—Germany, Japan, and Italy, allied under the 1940 Tripartite Pact. The nations who signed this declaration are agreed that first, victory must be achieved in order to “defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice.” They are joined in the “common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.” Victory depends on total dedication from all nations, each of them promising to “employ its full resources, military or economic” in order to win the war. In addition, each nation agrees not to make a separate peace with Germany and its allies, which would have weakened the position of the other Allies.

The declaration also invites nonsignatories who were joined against “Hitlerism” by “rendering material assistance and contributions” to adhere to the declaration's principles. Indeed, as additional nations joined the original twenty-six, their names and the “date of communication of adherence” were added to the document. By the end of the war, twenty-one more nations had signed the declaration.

Essential Themes

This declaration addresses both long-range goals and shared ideals, and lays out the terms of the wartime alliance between these twenty-six nations. In its reference to the Atlantic Charter, this declaration is long-term, philosophical, and fundamental to the shaping of the world after the war. In the specific language of this document, the philosophical underpinnings of the alliance are present (nations safeguarding freedom against tyranny), but specific duties are promised by the nations that signed it. They were pledged to contribute everything possible to the war effort, and they also promised not to make a separate peace with Germany and her allies. The short-term goal of winning the war required a “United Nations” to oppose the Axis powers. The long-term goals of peacekeeping and international cooperation required a “United Nations” as an international representative body dedicated to keeping a war such as the one that raged in 1941 from ever happening again.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Beevor, Antony. The Second World War. New York: Little, 2012. Print.
  • Luard, Evan. A History of the United Nations. New York: Macmillan, 1982. Print.
  • Meisler, Stanley. United Nations: A History. 2nd ed. New York: Grove, 2011. Print.
  • “Overview of the Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941.” Naval History and Heritage Command. US Navy, 1991. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
  • Schlesinger, Stephen C. Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations. Cambridge: Perseus, 2004. Print.
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