The Mayflower Compact

in History

Mayflower Compact was a document that outlined how Plymouth Colony was governed. It was the first governing document for the colony that was written by the colonists, who later came to be known to historians as the Pilgrims. The name Mayflower as derived from the ship they had used. Before they settled on the colony, they crossed the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower. One of the peculiar aspects of the Pilgrims was that more than half of them were separatists who were seeking freedom of religion after being denied the right to practice Christianity. Therefore, the act of crossing the Atlantic was seen as self-determination. It was an act that was against the will of English Church. Mayflower Compact was signed on November 11, 1620. It was a pact that was signed by 41 ships, which contained one hundred and two passengers. From each ship, a male adult signed the Compact, which means that Compact had signatures of 41 male adults each representing the ship. This means that in essence, this was pact between one hundred and twelve pilgrims signed in what is today Province town Harbor New Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Another important aspect of Mayflower Compact is that it was signed with fair and equal laws that was meant for the general good of the settlement and driven by the will of majority. Being the first written laws in the new land, Mayflower Compact gave and determined authority among settlers and was force up to 1691. Among the major highlights of the Compact was that it outlined clearly the independence of the colony and clearly stated that the colony was free of English law. Mayflower Compact was the first democratic governance document in the United States and it was the base for foundation of United State Constitution drafted more than 150 years afterwards.

Mayflower Compact – What did it say?

Although the original Mayflower Compact document could have been lost, the writings of the document have been reflected in a number of publications. Two of the publications where the content of the document have been found include Journal of Plymouth Plantation written by Wiliam Bradford and Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of Pilgrims at Plymouth written by Edward Winslow (Morton 49). From these two documents, the contents of Mayflower Compact highlight important beliefs and reason why the pilgrims set out their journey. In part, the document invokes loyalty to King James and God. The document also highlights that the main reason why they set out to establish a new colony in northern parts of Virginia was “… and Advancement of the Christian Faith…” (Thomas 82). In addition, the document also highlights the reason for their coming together and for writing the document was to

“…. Combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Perseveration ….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” (Thomas 82).

From the above quote, it is evident that the Pilgrims clearly understood the reasons why they had settled into the new land and what their intentions were. Although they were running to find freedom of worship, they still invoked loyalty to King James. The document also appears religious and they clearly mention that their intention was to further Christian faith (Yero 70). Therefore, Pilgrims understood what they wanted and they inscribed their aspirations and how these aspirations were to be achieved in Mayflower Compact.

What were the causes of this document?

There were many reasons why this first democratic document was signed. As has been expressed in the review of the document, there were intimate beliefs and aspirations that led to signing of this important and democratic document that set the pace for consequential governance in the new land.

One of the major reasons why the document was signed was because the pilgrims believed on the need to have equality and fairness in administration of the new colony. Those who signed the Compact firmly believed that covenants were not only to be honored in the relationship between man and God but also in relations between men themselves (Yero 108). They believed that in order to address the problems that had been faced by other colonies, they need to be fair and justice and this could only be achieve through such a simple agreement. These pilgrims had honored covenants as a part of their righteous integrity and had agreed to be bound by the same principle in the new colony as these principles were set out in the Compact. This means that the new Compact was signed as a way of finding justice and fairness for the new colony (Philbrick 18). Therefore, it can be concluded that one of the major reasons why the Compact was signed was the need to inculcate liberty in the new colony. It was meant to eliminate any oppression and to ensure that all people in the new colony were treated equally and fairly.

Another important reason why the Compact was signed was to provide guidelines for those living in the colony. The major highlights of the document emphasized the need for the pilgrims to swear allegiance to King James and to God as well. The Compact can be taken as a social contract in which t9). The pilgrims did not want to take the route that had been taken by other colonies which had become unruly with no central authority. They wanted an orderly colony where there was a government ensuring justice for all people.

The third reason why the Compact was signed was due to the need to set up a colony that was God fearing. From the onset, the pilgrims had run in a self-determination-cause that was meant to grant them freedom of worship. In the Compact, they also highlighted that one of the reason why they signed the Compact and why they were so passionate regarding the success of the new colony was to advance Christianity (Whitcraft 102). Coming from oppressive English laws where they had not been allowed to freely practice their religion, the Pilgrims were careful not to fall into the hands of another oppressive regime and perhaps their self determination cause would not have been sealed without assurance of freedom of worship, fairness, and justice for all people. There was not other better way to guarantee them this rather than putting it down into a Compact that all people agree upon and abided by its provisions (Philbrick 92).

Therefore, there were different reasons why this document was signed and all these reason have been indirectly expressed in the document. The document was a summary of aspirations of the Pilgrims and these aspirations deduce the reasons why they valued this document because it acted as a guideline for the new colony.

What were the effects of the Mayflower Compact?

Mayflower Compact was significant in different ways. First, it is important to acknowledge that it was the first document that set out democratic principles in the new land (Philbrick 182). This means that it provided members of the colonial American with a good example of a document that could be used to govern people. It was the first document that outlined the principle of social contract where the government expected some things from the people and in return people expected something from the government. Most important, it outlined the aspiration of the pilgrims and how they wanted their colony to be administered. Second, the Compact helped the Plymouth Colony to avoid many pitfalls that other colonies had suffered (All about History). Most other colonies had failed due to lack of a working government that could order. Plymouth Colony was orderly and this orderliness could be attributed to the highlights of the Compact. Therefore, the Compact helped in the issues of administration. Third, historians argue that the Mayflower Compact was a precedent of the United States Constitution (Whitcraft 142). Although the constitution was drafted about 150 years after the Mayflower Compact, the principles of democracy contained in the Constitution were drawn from the Compact. In away, without the Mayflower Compact, there would have not been United States Constitution. Most important, the Compact highlighted the principle of majoritarian model which later become the foundation of the United States Constitution (Phillip 82). The Compact formalized the idea of liberty, which later became the cornerstone of United States constitution.


Mayflower Compact was the first democratic governance document in the United States and it was the base for foundation of United State Constitution drafted more than 150 years afterwards. Signed by 41 Pilgrims, the document highlighted important aspirations and expectations of the Pilgrims who were running seeking freedom to practice their religion. The document became the first written government document and helps the Plymouth Colony to flourish with a government in place. It outlined the principles of fairness, equality and liberty, which were later to be absorbed in the United States constitution. It was an important Compact that shuttled the way for modern democracy.

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The Mayflower Compact

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This article was published on 2012/03/26