After a grueling 2 months on a tight boat, the Mayflower was at what would become known as Cape Cod. However, all was not peaceful as there were some disagreements between the “Saints” and the “Strangers,” who they only discovered were joining them when they were leaving. Storms and winds had changed where they reached land. King James I/VI had allowed for them to go to the Virginia Colony, but they were instead north of that colony. The Strangers, in general, wished to go south, to go where they had been instructed to colonize! The Saints, in general, wished to disembark and start preparing for the winter. Besides this hot debate, they had other disagreements, leading to fears that they would split into two colonies, when they already had too few. They determined that they needed to lay down some common and mutual rules, in order to prevent this. So, they gathered together -with a representative from each family that was planning on staying- and signed what became known as the Mayflower Compact 400 years ago today, once you convert the Old Style date to the New Style.
This Mayflower Compact is important for a myriad of reasons. I will highlight just 3.
- This is the beginning of the Republic in America. Republics are representative governments. Systems where a representative speaks for those who chose him. As noted, each family had a representative, so this document was signed in a Republic manner. This foundation will influence the coming years.
- In the Compact, they declare that they are “loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James” but while they recognize this allegiance, they are also determined to “enact, constitute, and frame […] 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.” They are determined to make decisions for themselves, rather than waiting for someone higher up.
- John Locke, writing in the 1670’s, asserts “every man, by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government, puts himself under an obligation to every one of that society to submit to the determination of the majority, and to be concluded by it; or else this original compact, whereby he with others incorporates into one society, would signify nothing” (chap. 8, sec. 97) The Saints and Strangers made sure to prevent their compact from signifying nothing by including that, “unto which [laws we enact] we promise all due submission and obedience.” And they wrote this 12 years before John Locke was even born! Clearly, they understood necessities and methods of governments. After this time, both Saints and Strangers were jointly known as Pilgrims.
100 years ago, in 1920, Vice-president-elect Calvin Coolidge said “We may well take lesson these days from those sturdy, Godfearing men and women who landed on these shores 300 years ago. They respected each other’s rights, lived according to law and were always obedient to constituted authority. When their memory fades the glory of our nation will depart.” I think his words ring just as true today.