The Mayflower Compact
"Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean."
Colonies in British North America needed permission, in the form of a "patent" or charter, from the king or from a company authorized by him. Before the Mayflower sailed, the Pilgrims obtained the First Peirce Patent for a settlement in the northern part of the Virginia Colony. The Pilgrims landed north of the patent's boundaries.
When the Mayflower reached Cape Cod, anchoring in today's Provincetown Harbor, in November of 1620, some passengers questioned the authority of the group's leaders. That authority had been granted by a patent (or charter) for a settlement in the northern part of the Virginia Colony. The patent was not valid in New England.
The Pilgrims drew up an agreement that the passengers would stay together in a "civil body politic." That agreement, known as the "Mayflower Compact," was signed on November 21, 1620. The original Mayflower Compact has disappeared; we know its wording from the writings of William Bradford.
Text of Mayflower Compact:
In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, 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 advancement 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 of another, covenant and combine our selves 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 hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November [New Style, November 21], 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. Anno Dom. 1620.
Signing the Mayflower Compact by Moran
"Observing some not well affected to unity..., it was thought good there should be an association and agreement that we should combine together in one body."
The Pilgrims then requested a new patent from England. In 1621, the Council for New England issued the Second Peirce Patent, granting the Pilgrims permission to remain in Plymouth. The patent was provisional - if the settlement survived for seven years, the Pilgrims could apply for a more "permanent" patent. The Colony did survive. The Warwick/Bradford Patent, signed by the Earl of Warwick and addressed to William Bradford, was issued in 1629.
Later Significance of the
The Mayflower Compact was an interim document that governed the colonists only until an official charter was obtained. It is an exaggeration to see it as the forerunner of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.
The Mayflower Compact did, however, embody the guiding and lasting principles of the Pilgrims as expressed by their pastor John Robinson: separation of Church and state in a "civil body politic" and the rule of "just and equal laws."
As an early example of democracy in America, the Mayflower Compact has remained an inspiration since 1620.
"Here was a unanimous and personal assent by all the individuals of the community to the association by which they became a nation."
- John Quincy Adams, 1802