Mayflower Pact - 1620

The Mayflower Compact

mayflower-compact-1620Self-government by the people was of paramount importance to the Europeans settling in North America. The Pilgrims drafted their own system of self-rule — the Mayflower Compact — before they landed on the new continent.

Mayflower Compact, document signed on the English ship Mayflower on November 21 [November 11, Old Style], 1620, prior to its landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was the first framework of government written and enacted in the territory that is now the United States of America.

Rough seas and storms prevented the Mayflower from reaching its intended destination in the area of the Hudson River, and the ship was steered instead toward Cape Cod. Because of the change of course, the passengers were no longer within the jurisdiction of the charter granted to them in England by the Virginia Company. Within this legally uncertain situation, friction arose between the English Separatists and the rest of the travelers, with some of the latter threatening to leave the group and settle on their own.

To quell the conflict and preserve unity, Pilgrim leaders (among them William Bradford and William Brewster) drafted the Mayflower Compact before going ashore. The brief document (about 200 words) bound its signers into a body politic for the purpose of forming a government and pledged them to abide by any laws and regulations that would later be established “for the general good of the colony.” The compact was signed by nearly all of the Mayflower’s adult male passengers (41 of a total of 102 passengers) while the ship was anchored at Provincetown harbour. Its authority was immediately exercised when John Carver, who had helped organize the expedition, was chosen as governor of the new colony.

The Mayflower Compact was not a constitution but rather an adaptation of a Puritan church covenant to a civil situation. Furthermore, as a provisional instrument adopted solely by the colonists, the document did not solve the matter of their questionable legal rights to the land they settled. (A patent wmayflower-docksas eventually obtained from the Council for New England in June 1621.) Still, the Mayflower Compact became the foundation of Plymouth’s government and remained in force until the colony was absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691. Although in practice much of the power in Plymouth was guarded by the Pilgrim founders, the compact, with its fundamental principles of self-government and common consent, has been interpreted as an important step in the evolution of democratic government in America.

As the original version of the Mayflower Compact was lost, the oldest known source in which the text of the document (provided below) can be found is an account of Plymouth’s settlement written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford.

Original Text

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 of the raigne of our sovereigne lord, King James, of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fiftie-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.

  • John Carver
  • William Bradford
  • Edward Winslow
  • William Brewster
  • Issac Allerton
  • Myles Standish
  • John Alden
  • Samuel Fuller
  • Christopher Martin
  • William Mullins
  • William White
  • Richard Warren
  • John Howland
  • Stephen Hopkins
  • Edward Tilley
  • John Tilley
  • Francis Cooke
  • Thomas Rogers
  • Thomas Tinker
  • John Rigdale
  • Edward Fuller
  • John Turner
  • Francis Eaton
  • James Chilton
  • John Crackston
  • John Billington
  • Moses Fletcher
  • John Goodman
  • Degory Priest
  • Thomas Williams
  • Gilbert Winslow
  • Edmund Margeson
  • Peter Browne
  • Richard Britteridge
  • George Soule
  • Richard Clarke
  • Richard Gardiner
  • John Allerton
  • Thomas English
  • Edward Dotey
  • Edward Leister

Painting credits:   1. Pilgrims signing the Mayflower Compact, reproduction of an oil painting, 1932. Original Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899    2.Pilgrim Fathers boarding the Mayflower, painting by Bernard Gribble.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mayflower-Compact

 

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