On April 25, 1945 the United Nations Conference on International Organization opened in San Francisco with representatives from 50 nations in attendance. On June 26, 1945, delegates from those nations signed the Charter of the United Nations (UN). This document serves as the constitution of the UN. It set out a plan for an organization to help keep world peace, an organization that had, in effect, been decades in the making. The forerunner to the United Nations was the League of Nations. The League was created in 1918 at the end of World War I. One of the treaties that officially ended the war, the Treaty of Versailles (June 28, 1919), provided for the creation of the League of Nations.
The League of Nations set up by the treaty was based on ideas set forth by Woodrow Wilson, who was president of the United States at the time. Wilson had called for the creation of such an organization in his Fourteen Points, a set of principles he proposed as the basis for ending World War I and for keeping the peace. Despite Wilson’s support for the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, Wilson was unable to persuade the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty, and the United States never joined the League.
World leaders had hoped that the Treaty of Versailles and the creation of the League of Nations would lead to a
lasting peace in Europe. By the 1930’s, however, Germany, Italy, and Japan–the nations that would form the Axis Power–were all building weapons, increasing their armies, and taking over territories that belonged to other nations. After Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, the United Kingdom and France–two nations that would form the Allies–declared war, and World War II (1939-1945) began. By 1940, France and the other nations of Europe had fallen to the Axis nations. The United Kingdom stood alone.
The United States entered World War II in December 1941, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But the United States had been helping the United Kingdom before it officially entered the war. In August 1941, British prime minister Winston Churchill and American president Franklin D. Roosevelt met aboard the U.S.S. Augusta in the waters off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The meeting was so secret that a Secret Service agent impersonated president Roosevelt on his yacht, Potomac, on the east coast of the United States. Very few people knew that the two leaders were meeting on a ship in the Atlantic. Churchill and Roosevelt forged an agreement known as the Atlantic Charter. The charter solidified the British-American alliance and outlined the goals following an Allied victory. The charter maintained some of the basic principles of former president Wilson’s Fourteen Points.
Some of the principles of the Atlantic Charter included:
• That neither the United Kingdom nor the United States sought to gain additional territory.
• That both nations respected the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they would live.
• That all nations would have access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which they needed for their economic prosperity.
In January 1942, 26 nations signed the Declaration of United Nations, in which they agreed to abide by the principles of the Atlantic Charter. This was the first official use of the words United Nations. The UN was officially created after World War II ended in Europe with the signing of the organization’s charter by 50 of the 51 member nations. (Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945. Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.) No one from Poland was able to attend the signing in San Francisco. Poland signed the document a few months later.
Today, nearly all nations in the world have signed the UN Charter and are members of the United Nations.
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