400 Years Later, The Mayflower Compact Matters Now More Than Ever

400 Years Later, The Mayflower Compact Matters Now More Than Ever

The Mayflower Compact famously applied the idea of law established by the people, not the king — an idea worth remembering, honoring, and defending.
Evita Duffy
By

400 years ago today, on the morning of November 11, 1620, the Mayflower anchored off the coast of Cape Cod and the Pilgrims wrote what is considered the genesis of American democracy, the Mayflower Compact.

The Mayflower Compact laid the foundations for two other revolutionary documents: the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. But as we all know, the United States’s founding documents did a lot more than just affect Americans, they inspired free societies all over the world, who applied the principles in the Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution to future governments. 

The group we now call the Pilgrims, a sect of the Puritans known as Separatists, who left persecution in England and first sought out religious freedom in Holland. Holland was tolerant, but lacking in economic opportunity. The Pilgrims also found it hard to maintain their English identity and heritage in Holland. Therefore, they took a giant gamble to start a new life in the New World. 

To finance their trip to New England, the Pilgrims signed a contract with the Virginia Company. In exchange for funding the trip, the stockholders agreed to share in the colony’s profits. Along with their families and indentured servants, the Pilgrims recruited merchants, craftsmen, and workers to come along with them in order to increase their chances of success. The Pilgrims called those on the voyage who were not Separatists, “strangers.” 

The Mayflower Compact was signed by everyone on the voyage— Pilgrims and “strangers”— establishing a consensual government, ensuring everyone in the new colony would abide by the same laws. The Compact was clearly and carefully written, stating the colonists’ loyalty to King James of England, in order that their venture would not be treasonous. 

While the English Magna Carta, written more than 400 years before the Mayflower Compact, established the principle of the rule of law, it meant the King’s law. The Mayflower Compact, however, famously applied the idea of law established by the people, not the king. The Pilgrims created a democratic form of government where officials would be elected, and laws passed. Every male member of the colony over 21 would be able to vote. Based on a popular vote, the eligible men would have the right to change and propose laws and elect or remove office holders. This was unprecedented. 

In settling the first colony in the “Northern parts of Virginia,” the Pilgrims and the other Mayflower passengers would “covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politick.” They also pledged to make and abide by the same “laws, ordinances, Acts, constitutions, and offices” in order to further “the general good of the Colony: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” 

The Mayflower Compact stated their voyage was “For the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith,” and that people derived their right to self-government from God. While they were committed to Christianity, the Mayflower Compact did not mention a specific church or method of worship, leaving it accepting of both the Separatist Pilgrims, and the “strangers,” many of whom were still members of the Church of England. 

Forty-one adult male passengers on the Mayflower signed the agreement, including two of the indentured servants aboard. Soon after signing it, they elected John Carver as the first governor of the new colony, which they called Plymouth Plantation.

The Mayflower Compact is one of the most important documents in world history because it set a precedent for the establishment of a democratic government by the consent of the governed. Historian Rebecca Fraser wrote in her book, The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage and the Founding of America,” that the “Plymouth Colony was the first experiment in consensual government in Western history between individuals with one another, and not with a monarch.” 

In 1802, speaking at Plymouth, the future president John Quincy Adams called it “perhaps the only instance, in human history, of that positive, original social compact, which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government.” 

Today, honoring the Pilgrims, their historically consequential Mayflower Compact, and its role in American democracy is sadly being diluted, if not altogether ignored, by our children’s American history classes. Its historical significance is minimized by critical race and gender theory, which trains students to think more about the fact that women, for example, were not permitted to sign it, something that should not be the least bit surprising in 1620.

Indeed, we see the repercussions of the new narrative of American shame every Thanksgiving. Children are no longer taught to remember the bravery of the freedom-loving Pilgrims, or the fact that the Pilgrims and Natives looked past their differences to break bread. Instead, they are taught about the “Thanksgiving myth,” as the New York Times puts it, which they say “sugarcoats the viciousness of colonial history for Native people.” In fact, Plymouth Rock and other monuments to the Pilgrims are routinely vandalized in the wake of the left’s pursuit to rewrite American history. 

Credit for the breakdown of American history and pride can, in large part, be given to Howard Zinn’s Marxist-inspired, “A People’s History of the United States,” a book which has become the new standard in the American History curriculum. The race riots, destruction of historical monuments, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, and the damaging notion of collective American guilt and specifically, “white guilt,” are all products of the Zinn narrative. 

Ask your kids if and what they learned about the Mayflower Compact today. If you are not satisfied, be your own child’s teacher. Our children should not be robbed of their proud historical and cultural inheritance.

The lasting impact and significance that the MayFlower Compact had on America’s founding documents, which established principles of equality, self-government, rights, and freedoms for the world, is worth remembering, honoring, and defending against America’s woke revolutionaries. This is true now, perhaps more than ever.

Evita Duffy is an intern at The Federalist and a junior at the University of Chicago, where she studies American History. She loves the Midwest, lumberjack sports, writing, & her family. Follow her on Twitter at @evitaduffy_1

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