When settlers arrived at New Plymouth in November of 1620, they understood that they would need laws that would govern their new-found society. Created to be fair for all, the Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 men aboard their ship, the Mayflower, and demonstrated the colony’s freedom from English rule. Recognized as the first written laws of the new land, the laws were adhered to until 1691.
The settlers were seeking religious freedom, and by drafting the Mayflower Compact, entered into an agreement with each other and their faith establishing rules of honesty and fairness. However, not everyone aboard the Mayflower was interested in the same goals. Many that set out on the voyage were not Christian, but instead seeking complete religious freedom to practice in any way they saw fit. Further, many passengers were known as “strangers”. This group consisted of merchants and sailors also seeking a way of life in the new land with little ties whatsoever to the pilgrims themselves.
Why did they need the Mayflower Compact?
The small group of voyagers had known only life under a monarchy. Never before had they faced a situation in which there would need to be a self-governed society. By creating this “social pact”, they were able to establish some level of order. But, as the population grew with time, and new towns began to spring up, things were ripe for a change. Town hall meetings and local governing bodies began to take shape, proving to the people that the concept could indeed work.
Because of the various towns and town halls, it became very difficult for people to travel to the central courthouse for debates and meetings, so each town began to elect deputies that would represent the town in the General Court sessions. This would have an impact on the government that we know today.
The Impact of the Mayflower Compact
The Mayflower Compact created a belief that self-government could indeed work, so when representatives came together at the Constitutional Convention to create the document that would govern a young nation, the concepts outlined in 1620 were obviously in mind. The democratic government that would shape and govern the United States was created by the first English settlers in the “New World” when they watched their settlement grow. As leaders were elected to represent segments of the population in various townships, the idea took shape.
Historians often credit the creation of the Mayflower Compact as the first steps toward creating a free nation. Certain phrases citing “for the general good of the Colony” and “just and equal laws” ensured that the monarchy that so many had endured would not reach to the newfound settlements. However, this wasn’t the full intention. Instead, the authors mentioned loyalty to King James in the document, and only sought to ensure cohesiveness and order. Though unaware of the impact at the time, these phrases would inspire an entire nation, leading to a Republic government and a revolt against the king of England.