In the late 1500s, several religious groups in England wanted to establish a new church completely independent from the Church of England. These individuals were called “separatists” and were often persecuted because of their religious practices and beliefs. One of these groups became known as the Pilgrims. After continuously being denied the right to establish their own church in England, the Pilgrims decided to move their families to Holland. While Holland allowed them to worship freely, the Pilgrims soon began to miss the language and customs of life in England. After much discussion, the Pilgrims decided to move the entire community to America, where they could practice their religious beliefs and still maintain an English lifestyle.
On September 6, 1620, their ship, called the “Mayflower,” set sail for America. Two months later, the Pilgrims landed off the coast of Massachusetts, much further north than they originally intended. Since this land was outside the jurisdiction of the Virginia Colony’s government in Jamestown, the group agreed to draft a social contract for self-government based on consent of the governed and majority rule. All male adults signed the contract and agreed to be bound by its rules. This agreement became known as the Mayflower Compact and was the first act of European self-government in America. The concept that government is a form of covenant between two parties, the government and the people, was a major source of inspiration to the framers of the U.S. Constitution.
The Mayflower Compact
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 advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour 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 of 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. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.