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Upper Level Compact Study of the Mayflower Compact THIS DOCUMENT STANDS AS A CORNERSTONE OF OUR GREAT AMERICAN FORM OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT
Upper Level Compact Study of the Mayflower Compact
THIS DOCUMENT STANDS AS A CORNERSTONE OF OUR GREAT AMERICAN FORM OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT
The Virginia Company of London had given the Pilgrims the first Pierce patent, granting them permission to settle in the Virginia's. The Mayflower, carrying the patent, set out from Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620. Arriving on the bleak New England coast in the middle of winter, this sturdy little band of idealists faced a combination of hardships and difficulties almost unparalleled in history. Winter was coming on and the land off which Mayflower anchored looked desolate and dreary. Weakened by a stormy voyage of more than two months, lack of proper food, medical supplies and all the ordinary necessities of civilization, the faced an unknown land with only the Indians as their reception committee.
On their last day at sea, Mayflower encountered the turbulent waters of Pollock Rip off Cape Cod near the present-day Chatham, Massachusetts. The ship turned about heading north and two days later lay off present-day Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. Some of the "strangers" who had joined at London began to boast that, now being outside Virginia, "none had power to command them", openly proclaiming that "when they came ashore, they would use their own libertie, for none had the power to command them, the patent they had being for Virginia and not New-England, which belonged to another Government, with which the Virginia Company had nothing to doe." The names of those rebels have not been handed down. Bradford knew who they were, of course, but in his otherwise detailed chronicle he exhibits a curious reticence here, vaguely dismissing them as "some of the strangers."
One must remember the Mayflower passengers were not men of wealth and position. Neither were they a homogenous group. They were from different walks of life. Many of them were "strangers" to the Leiden flock. Less than half of their number were of the church of Leiden so they were not bound together by religious affiliation. Differences of opinion would certainly occur and dissensions were bound to arise. There was no one to whom they could appeal. Wise leadership proposed a document that should bind them all to submit to "such a government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose."
Knowing they would be dependent upon themselves for government, they wrote the Compact. As soon as the document was completed, the entire company was called together to hear it read aloud.
Once the Compact was signed, those who signed became legal voters and proceeded to elect a governor. Their choice was John Carver. This was America's first democratic election of a leader. These basic facts have been all but forgotten in the wake of the American Revolution and the leadership of such late-comers as Washington, Jefferson, etc.
This instrument, signed by forty-one men of the Mayflower passengers, is very brief, less than two hundred words, yet as far-reaching as any document ever written. Before they left England, Pastor Robinson had given the Pilgrim band a letter in which he outlined a plan for setting up a new government based on democratic principles. He told them they would be free to choose "such person as so entirely loves, and will promote the common good.ö It has been widely regarded as inspiring the Compact.
Written into this Compact, or constitution are the basic ideals of American democracy as we know it today.
These principles of democratic government developed out of the church government of the Separatists, which was initiated by Richard Clyfton in the early Pilgrim church at Scrooby, England, and furthered by Pastor John Robinson in the Pilgrim church at Leiden, Holland, where the Pilgrims had sojourned in exile for ten years prior to their voyage to New England on Mayflower. The Separatist Pilgrims had established democracy in church affairs - the right of each man to decide he own conscience how he would worship God. The Compact gave each man the right to participate in the enactment of laws and assured him of "just and equal" treatment.
IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and of one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11 of November, the year of the reign of our sovereign Lord James; of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Ano Dom. 1620.
c John Carver
c* William Bradford
c* Edward Winslow
c* William Brewster
c* Isaac Allerton
c* Myles Standish
* John Alden
* Samuel Fuller
c Christopher Martin
cU* William Mullins
* Richard Warren
* John Howland
c* Stephen Hopkins
c* Edward Tilly
cU* John Tilly
* Francis Cooke
U* Thomas Rogers
cU Thomas Tinker
cU John Rigdale
cU* Edward Fuller
U John Turner
c* Francis Eaton
cU* James Chilton
U John Crackston
c* John Billington
U* Moses Fletcher
U John Goodman
U* Degory Priest
U Thomas Williams
U Edmond Margeson
* Peter Brown
U Richard Britteridge
* George Soule
U Richard Clarke
U John Allerton
U Thomas English
* Edward Doty
Edward Leister(Note: November 21st of our Calendar is the same as November 11th of the Old Style Calendar.)
c Brought wife
U Died first winter
* Has descendants
Richard More and Henry Samson were young boys and did not sign the Compact. Both have descendants.
The Compact Expresses Four Major Ideals
1. It expresses the deep faith and belief in God and His divine guidance, which was held so dear to the Pilgrim Fathers.
2. It expresses their deep loyalty to their native England and to the King - even though they had been persecuted and exiled by his actions.
3. It expresses their mutual regard for one another as equals in the sight of God.
4. It expresses their intent to establish just and equal laws upon which would be built a truly democratic form of government - the first in recorded history.
They believed in God and believing in God, they believed in the equality of all men before God. Therefore, without precedent, they made all men equal before the law. Here is the birth of popular constitutional liberty, foreshadowing our Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.
Although the King of England was also the head of the church, the Mayflower contingent did not break with the crown. They were careful to recognize King Jame as I as their sovereign. The wanted no trouble on that score. However, they had come to the conviction that religion should be a matter of individual conscience and belief. What was more logical than they should step from the search for religious freedom to the discovery also of political freedom?
They intended this government to only temporary until they could obtain a patent from the Council for New England, or a charter from the King. Even though the Compact is short, it served as the constitution of the Pilgrim Colony until Plymouth was merged into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692 by order of King William and Queen Mary.
The original document has disappeared. However, it was first printed in Mourt's Relation (1622). A copy of the Mayflower Compact is also to be found in William Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation: 1620-1647, and may be regarded as the most authentic text. Nathaniel Morton reprinted it in New England's Memoriall, together with the names of the signers.
In time the democratic ideal spread to other colonies. Its impact and the Pilgrim example gradually softened the restrictive and intolerant government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. By the time the more free and tolerant Plymouth Colony was absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692, the latter was ready to open privileges to all.
Survival itself was a great triumph for the Pilgrims. The indomitable will of the little band to rise above all obstacles was finely exemplified in the words of Elder William Brewster: "It is not with us as with men whom smalle things can discourage or smalle discontentments cause to wish themselves home again." However, their contributions were much greater.
The Pilgrims shaped a quality of life that was to persist for centuries. They planted the seeds of the American democratic form system. The signing of the Compact has been called one of the most important acts known in history. It certainly is the most notable contribution ever made to the civic thought of the world. In writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson said, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal àö It was the very essence of the Mayflower Compact echoing down the corridors of time. Equality of man had not been self-evident until the Pilgrims proclaimed it, and for more than a century and a half the concept had spread throughout the colonies and become what Jefferson was to identify as the "American mind".
It is the ultimate influence of the Compact on American life and government that led Thomas Carlyle many years later to say of the Mayflower landfall at Provincetown: "It was properly the beginning of America. There were struggling settlers in America before. . .but the soul of it was this."
The members of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants believe it is a privilege and a patriotic duty to our country to perpetuate the memory of our Pilgrim fathers, the birth of freedom and the beginnings of American democracy.
Last modified November 17, 2006
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