Written in 1620 by the Mayflower passengers (who later were called Pilgrims), the Mayflower Compact was the first document of self-government in the colonies of the New World. Signed by all the adult male passengers of the Mayflower, it was based on the Covenant they lived by in Leyden, England before setting sail. It is hailed as the first democratic government created by voluntary agreement among men of equal rights.
This research paper was written by Anne Marie London when she was a graduate student at Grand Valley State University, MI. Starting with the development of the Separatist religious movement, this paper tells the story of the Pilgrims and the development of the Mayflower Compact. It specifically addresses its historical importance, and notes similarities in goals to modern philanthropies. It includes an extensive bibliography and links to additional online resources. "According to the Mayflower Compact, a self-governing body rules for the greater good."
Because transcriptions of the Mayflower Compact are quite easy to find online, I did not include too many of those sites here. This Mayflower History site starts with a transcription (without any modernization to the punctuation or spelling) but also includes an annotative section about its history. "In a way, this was the first American Constitution, though the Compact in practical terms had little influence on subsequent American documents. John Quincy Adams, a descendant of Mayflower passenger John Alden, does call the Mayflower Compact the foundation of the U.S. Constitution in a speech given in 1802, but this was in principle more than in substance."
"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." Visit Pilgrim Hall to learn about the legal history of the Pilgrims, and how their authority to self-govern was granted by patents, charters and the Mayflower Compact.
Although totally without any aesthetic appeal, this well-written history of the Mayflower journey and the Plymouth Colony deserves a visit. The link provided drops into the middle of this long page at the point in the story where the Mayflower makes landfall. "The Compact was an agreement signed by all the men on board - including the indentured servants - promising to abide by laws that would be drawn up and agreed upon by all male members of the community. The women were not allowed to participate in the governing process."
Although it only briefly mentions the Mayflower Compact, this two-page illustrated story for elementary school students, does tell a short history of the Pilgrims, putting the Mayflower Compact into historical context. "The ocean crossing was long and difficult. Many of the Pilgrims wondered if they would ever see land. Two people died, and one baby was born. On November 9, they saw land. Two days later, they dropped anchor at Cape Cod, which is now in Massachusetts."