November 1620: The Mayflower Compact

When the Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod on November 9, 1620, dissent arose among them.

William Bradford tells us how a group of undesirables from London declared they would not abide by the rules of the Virginia Company because their patent with the Virginia Company did not technically apply to a settlement north of the Hudson River. Those undesirables were referred to as Strangers.

Back in Holland, Pastor Robinson had anticipated the need to create a government based on civil consent rather than divine decree. With so many Strangers (70) in their midst there was no other way. They must all agree to submit to the laws drawn up by their duly elected officers. A civil covenant would provide the basis for a secular government in America.

Thus was born the Mayflower Compact.

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 a” 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.

On November 11, 1620, a total of forty-one men signed the Compact. The Pilgrims had created a document that ranks with the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution as a seminal American text.

It is rather ironic that the  undesirables would not only cause the creation of the Compact, but by their actions of rebellion set a pattern for future generations of Americans to speak up and protest at will.

By the end of that first harsh winter 52 of the original 102 Pilgrims were dead. The Pilgrims descendants have proven to be, if nothing else, fruitful. In 2002 it was estimated that there were approximately 35 million descendants of the Mayflower passengers in the United States, which represents roughly 10% of the total U.S. population.

When you observe our Thanksgiving holiday, think about how it all began.