Nov. 11, 2020, marks the 400th anniversary since the Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and signed the Mayflower Compact.
For clarity’s sake, under our current calendar the day actually falls on Nov. 21, due to Great Britain and its colonies not recognizing an update to the Gregorian Calendar until 1752, which shifted everything 10 days forward.
But to the Pilgrims in 1620, it was Nov. 11, as William Bradford, who would become Plymouth Colony’s longest-serving governor, recorded in his account “Of Plymouth Plantation.”
The two-month sea journey had been a rough passage, and the Pilgrims were happy to be on land again.
“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, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element,” Bradford wrote.
“Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembered by that which went before), they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less town to repair to, to seek for succour,” he added regarding the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower.
Just 41 were actually Pilgrims, religious separatists seeking freedom from the Church of England, with the others being merchants, craftsmen, indentured servants and orphaned children, according to History.com.
“What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?” Bradford asked regarding the whole group. “May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity.'”
Then drawing from the Bible, he concluded, “therefore praise the Lord, because He is good: and His mercies endure forever.”
Not only had the Mayflower arrived in an unoccupied land, they had been blown so far off course to the north that they were no longer even in the territory governed by the Virginia Company, which British King James had authorized.
“And the Pilgrims say, well, ‘Who’s going to be in charge?’ There is no king-appointed person on our boat,” American history author William Federer told The Patriot Project.
In order to secure their liberty — “for none had power to command them” in New England, wrote Bradford — and after “several strangers [non-Pilgrims on the ship] made discontented and mutinous speeches,” 41 of Mayflower’s male passengers agreed to enter into a covenant regarding self-government.
The Mayflower Compact, adopted on Nov. 11, reads in part, “In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, 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 advancements of the Christian faith, and the 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 another; covenant and combine ourselves 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.”
400 years ago today, America’s great experiment in self-rule began. On Nov. 11, 1620 — more than 160 years before the Constitution — the Mayflower Compact was signed and became the first attempt at democracy in the New World. @JosephLoconte https://t.co/OmUtmbv2G8
— Kay C. James (@KayColesJames) November 11, 2020
Federer described the compact as “simple, revolutionary” and a “polarity change in the flow of power.”
“Instead of top down, rule by kings, it’s rule bottom up by we [the people],” he said.
“The whole world is ruled by kings, Russian czars, Chinese emperors, Indian maharajahs, Muslim sultans, the kings of Spain, France and Austria and England,” Federer explained, referring to the 17th century.
The Pilgrims did something unique. “They give themselves the authority to start a government,” he said.
The model came directly from their congregational style church the Pilgrims were already members of, where the people chose their pastor and elders who would govern it, rather than the hierarchies of either the Church of England or the Catholic Church.
This form of self-government birthed in New England would have a great influence on the American Revolution, when the Founding Fathers entered into covenant akin to the Mayflower Compact, first with the Declaration of Independence and later with the Constitution after the war.
The Pilgrims had enacted their covenantal form of self-government 50 to 70 years before the Enlightenment (which also influenced the founding generation) ever began, Federer pointed out.
So here’s to the Pilgrims, who were the first to establish government “of the people, by the people” and “for the people” on America’s shores.
May generations yet to come enjoy this incredible blessing of liberty.