Most consider the U. S. Constitution as the formation of our government. Actually, the freedom of self-governing was established 150 years earlier in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Mayflower Compact, America’s first founding document, reveals the pilgrims’ true purpose and intention for their journey to the New World.
William Bradford coordinated the Mayflower voyage along with the Separatists, or “Saints”. Their desire was to break from the Church of England and worship God as they saw fit. But they knew they couldn’t do it alone. Needing both physical and financial assistance, they accepted extra travelers on their adventure. Adventures, tradesmen and servants, made up half of the Mayflower passengers. These “Strangers” were searching for their own opportunities. The Saints sought religious freedom while the Strangers sought economic freedom.
The First Pierce Patent granted the pilgrims the right to settle in Virginia. Bad weather forced the Mayflower to travel north of its destination. They landed outside Britain’s jurisdiction, which voided their patent. Some Strangers quickly began pushing a complete break from the king. While most continued to respect the monarchy, others gave speeches of mutiny towards it.
If the pilgrims wanted to survive, they would have to work together. Bradford knew they must reach a consensus before stepping onto land.
Bradford drafted the “Mayflower Compact” using both the Old and New Testaments as guides. All male passengers of age were required to sign the document before leaving the ship.
First and foremost, the document acknowledged God and His Grace. As a result, the pilgrims continued to respect King James as God’s chosen ruler for Britain as is evident by the use of dread, or awe. Next, Bradford states their purpose of advancing the Christian faith. After clarifying this, Bradford gathered the pilgrims under one “civil body politic”. At least, until the king granted a a new patent.
The contract bound the Saints and the Strangers together under one agreed upon government.
The Mayflower Compact (in full modern text) reads:
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 advancements 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 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 hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.
As noted in the document, the pilgrims signed on November 11, 1620. When the New World switched from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar around 1752, that date shifted. Today, America recognizes November 21st as the official date of the important document.
In 1621, King James signed a new Pierce Patent, giving the pilgrims the freedom and his blessing to self-govern. The Mayflower Compact remained valid until the northeast organized the Dominion of New England in 1686, though the new patent superseded it.
John Quincy Adams discussed the importance of the Mayflower Compact to the Founders in an 1802 speech. He confirmed they used the document as a template for the U. S. Constitution. As a descendant of John Adams, a Founding Father, and John Alden, the last surviving signer of the Mayflower Compact, he ought to know.
The original Mayflower Compact vanished over 200 years ago. Many credit Revolutionary War looting to its disappearance. Fortunately, copies of its wording exist in several publications. Bradford provided the text to London’s Edward Winslow . Winslow published it in his booklet Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1622.
Bradford’s book, History of Plymouth Plantation (1646), also recorded the document. Nathanial Mortion, Bradford’s nephew, included the text along with the list of signers, in New England’s Memorial (1669).
The compact was America’s first call for freedom. It confirms our Christian heritage and desire to worship God freely from the beginning. Likewise, it affirms the pilgrims objective of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to the New World. They were not ashamed to profess their devotion to God. It is time Christians in America return to the bold stance of those who forged this nation in the name of God.
This Thanksgiving week, remember and give thanks to God for the freedoms America possesses. May we be as courageous as our forefathers in fighting for and defending the rights and liberty which God has granted us.
Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless America.
But that’s just my 2 cents.