The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document in what is now the United States. It even helped establish the direct election of representatives in the colonies that eventually carried over to the new nation! Learn what the Compact was about and why it was necessary.
A Social Contract
Every year, Americans move from the cities to the suburbs to trade in their apartments for family homes. Many times, they must sign an agreement with the local Home Owners Association that they will live by certain rules in that particular neighborhood. These rules are usually meant to keep order, cleanliness, and peace in a small community. These agreements are very similar to the agreement signed by 41 males on the Mayflower in 1620.A compact is an agreement, or contract, that people agree to. The Mayflower Compact was an agreement between 41 men aboard the Mayflower to live by a social contract.
A social contract means that people are willing to give up some of their individual rights to have other rights and protections as a group. Especially in an unsettled area, the idea of a social contract was much better for the Puritans than an ‘every man for himself’ type of approach.
In the Compact
The Mayflower Compact was written in a style that is similar to a prayer. Most passengers aboard the Mayflower were trying to escape religious persecution by King James in Great Britain, so it is no surprise that their religion is mentioned many times in the document. This persecution was more along the lines of a disagreement in theory and not usually a physical battle. The Pilgrims, as these Puritans would come to be known, wrote in the document that they had undertaken this voyage for the glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith.The compact did not have a lot of teeth as far as specific rules or laws, but simply bound the group together for the general good of the colony.
The signers all agreed to fall under the authority provided by the Mayflower Compact and to create laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices to govern the new colony. The signers would vote directly on important issues to the colony and agreed to hold regular meetings to discuss important matters.
The Pilgrims were Puritans, or Protestant Christians, who were trying to escape the leadership of the king and Anglican Church because they did not believe they were living according to the teachings in the Bible and were trying to find a better place to grow their faith.
They did not believe that the influence held over their faith by the king was proper and wanted to separate from that rule, which is why they were also referred to as Separatists. Many Puritans had moved away from Great Britain but still were not happy with their ability to practice their religion. In 1620, they decided to contract out the Mayflower to bring them to Virginia.Storms had blown the Mayflower off course by several hundred miles. The Pilgrims knew they had not landed in Virginia and tried to sail south, but eventually turned back and decided to set anchor near present-day Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They decided to name their new colony Plymouth after the harbor they set sail from in Great Britain.
The Pilgrims and others aboard the Mayflower had contracts with investors back in England to hopefully find some way to make money, but since they had not landed where the ship was supposed to land, they decided the contracts were no good. That is when they decided it was best for everyone aboard the ship to work together for survival and colonization. The document was written before anyone was allowed off the ship.
A compact is an agreement, or contract, that people agree to. The Mayflower Compact was an agreement between 41 men aboard the Mayflower to live by a social contract. A social contract means that people are willing to give up some of their individual rights to have other rights and protections as a group.
The people on the Mayflower knew it was important to create such a contract because they no longer had ties in England, and sticking together in the new world was more likely to make them successful. Though they intended to land in Virginia, a storm blew them off course, and they landed in present-day Massachusetts. They named the new colony Plymouth, and they lived by the tenants of the Mayflower Compact, which had been agreed upon before anyone even departed the ship.