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Mayflower Compact

The mission of this blog is to create an historical perspective on how America became a great power and leading nation among all nations of the world.

Background to the founding of America, begins with acknowledging its English cultural roots. Whereas, a vast majority of nations in the 17th century were governed by absolute authoritarian governments, England’s monarchy was limited by the Magna Carta (1215) and the English Bill of Rights (1689). The seventeenth century in England was a time of political, social and religious unrest which eventually led to the English Civil War (1642-1651). The war was fought between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists over further limited governance and religious rights.

During this period of social unrest, and as the Parliamentarians claimed political victory, growing divisions within the Church of England produced two protests groups, one was a group of believers referred to as the Puritans who advocated fewer doctrinal practices linked Roman Catholicism and the second group referred to as the Separatist who sought to leave the Church of England. Both groups suffered heavy persecution and were forced first to flee to the Netherlands then to America. Unlike England’s other colonies, North America’s thirteen colonies were exclusively settled by English settlers seeking religious freedom, monetary gain, or the opportunity to own land.  

In 1620 the Separatist determined to create a new life for themselves and their progeny in Northern Virginia. Their families along with 52 English citizens (collectively referred to as the Pilgrims) boarded the Mayflower armed with a charter issued by the London-based Virginia Company.

However, Atlantic storms drove the Mayflower hundreds of miles north of Virginia into Plymouth Bay. This reality meant that Mayflower’s passengers were no longer bound by the rules and laws of their Virginia charter. As the Strangers, group of adventurers, tradesmen and farmers began to discuss that they were no longer obligated to submit to Virginia’s laws, the Separatist drafted a series of laws to avoid living in a lawless society. (51 of 103 passengers were Separatist as the remaining Mayflower 52 passengers were Strangers) Their draft of laws became known as the Mayflower Compact, the first example of self-governing laws in the English colonies. The Mayflower Compact established the principle of rule by popular sovereignty a concept that serves as the justification for the Constitution and the American legal system.

The Mayflower Compact codified into law:

  1. Protection of citizens rights to practice their faith and trust in God and His providence.
  2. A loyalty to the English monarchy.
  3. A deep trust in their countrymen to do the right thing.
  4. Expressed intent to establish just laws upon which they would establish justice and a democratic form of government.

Upon arriving in Provincetown Harbor on November 11, 1620, the Pilgrims sent out scouts to survey possible settlement sites. After a monthly exploring, the “Plimouth” site was selected. Before leaving the Mayflower, the Separatist required each man to sign the Compact 41 men signed the Compact.  

The Mayflower Compact was constructed in alignment with the self-governing principles enumerated by the tenets of the social contract theory promoted in the publications of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

These same social contract theorists would greatly influence Thomas Jefferson in his drafting of the Declaration of Independence 157 years later.

Just as the Mayflower Compact brought together two diverse groups of people with opposing settlement objectives, it illustrates the importance of respecting your fellow countrymen and have a willingness to compromise for the good of the whole. This mutual respect is necessary to create and sustain a viable democratic society.

Mayflower Compact

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, France and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc. having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honour of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civill body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just and equall laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for the generall good of the Colonie unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape-Codd the 11. of November, in the year 1620