Amid all the rancor of 2020, including COVID-19, one of the most contentious presidential elections in history, cities in flames, and chaos and discord everywhere one seems to look, a major anniversary has arrived: the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing in America and the signing of the Mayflower Compact, which served as the basis for America’s founding documents and the freedoms we enjoy today.
On Nov. 11, 1620, the Pilgrims and others who came along for the journey arrived on the Massachusetts shore, after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a leaky and overcrowded ship rife with disease, with the hope of coming to a new world where they could freely practice their faith and rights of conscience.
While the Pilgrims gave us the first Thanksgiving, which we celebrate each year, they provided us an even more important legacy to be memorialized, the Mayflower Compact, which recognized that people derive their right of self-government from God, not man. This is the very concept America’s Founding Fathers later affirmed in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution more than 150 years later.
Through the Mayflower Compact, the Pilgrims and those who traveled with them pledged their loyalty to laws they would make themselves, rather than to a monarchy. It was the first attempt at self-government in what was known at the time as the New World.
While the document used Christianity as its base and said that all the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith, it was also a pluralistic document meant for the good of both Christians and non-Christians to be able to govern themselves and live in harmony with each other. It stated that the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices” that would allow the colony to thrive, and they would create one society and work with each other rather than in opposition to each other because faith informs good government for all.
What they created was so profound that in 1802, future President John Quincy Adams would remark during a speech at Plymouth that the Compact was “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.”
Now, 400 years later, we have sadly departed from many of the ideals of the Mayflower Compact. Loud voices in our society decry its ideals upon which our nation’s extraordinary experiment in self-governance was established. Through such travesties as the 1619 Project and the writing of revisionist historians such as Howard Zinn, these same voices seek to rewrite and diminish what the Pilgrims accomplished.
Furthermore, religious freedom, rights of conscience, and the ability to work together for the greater good are ridiculed and attacked daily. So many of our national ills can be traced to our rejection of what the Pilgrims established through the Mayflower Compact.
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Regardless of our current fogginess, however, it is imperative that we do not erase from our national memories what those brave colonists did 400 years ago. That is why this Thanksgiving, rather than focusing on our present national chaos, watching endless football and parades, or jockeying over who gets the drumstick or an extra piece of pie, I am going to think about the freedoms the Pilgrims bequeathed to us through the Mayflower Compact and the legacy it represents.
Amid cancel culture, wokeness, and attacks on the sacrifices of those who made America the beacon of freedom for the world to admire and emulate, it is time for us to reclaim the legacy of the Pilgrims from those who have tarnished both. It is that legacy for which we should all give gratitude this Thanksgiving.