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The Mayflower Compact
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The Mayflower Compact
The Mayflower Compact was a signed written agreement. It was the first governing document in what are now the United States and also the first step in a long process that eventually led to the writing of the U.S. Constitution nearly 200 years later. This agreement was signed on November 11th 1620, by all 41 men on board a vessel named the Mayflower before landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Women were not allowed to sign the document because they had no legal rights at the time. The original copy of the Mayflower Compact has been lost, but fortunately William Bradford, the second signer of the Mayflower Compact, included a transcription of the document in his book Of Plymouth Plantation. The Mayflower Compact was meant to keep peace among colonists. The recipients of the document were all the settlers of the Plymouth Colony.
Pilgrims were very religious people that committed themselves to a life based on the Bible. All of their actions were motivated by God that was present in all aspects of their lives. Therefore, when they proceeded to write the agreement, they made it in name of God. Mayflower Compact was a social contract made by people in presence of God in which the settlers agreed to respect the rules of the government. They joined themselves into what they called a Civil Body Politic for the purpose of forming a government to establish order and for their own survival. All that signed agreed to form just and equal laws to meet the general good and thus face the difficulties and dangers that were awaiting them. This agreement was signed to make possible to live together in peace and harmony. It represented a promise to live and work together for the good of all and help each other.
For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church was the official Church of England as in many other countries. However, in 1534, King Henry VIII proceeded to change this. He decided he wanted to divorce his wife as she did not give him a son. He wanted to marry another woman, but the church refused to grant the divorce. Therefore he put himself in charge of the Church of England. He made many changes but kept many of the catholic ceremonies the same. Many people wanted their church to be simpler, more humble and more “pure”. Because of this they were called Puritans. They broke away from the Church of England and decided to form their own church and created their own religious rules and traditions. They delivered themselves to a life based on the Bible.
In 1603 James I became King of England. He was much less permissive than Henry VIII and his officials began to persecute the Puritans imprisoning them. The separatist fled in small groups to Netherlands where they could enjoy religious freedom. However they never felt at home there as the Dutch culture and language were perceived as strange and difficult to understand or learn. Most of the separatists were not only poor but unhappy, as their children spoke more Dutch than English. They began to believe that if they remained there they would face eventual extinction. Also, forthcoming conflict and eventual war between the Netherlands and Spain meant further economical difficulties and danger in the country.
In 1617 the congregation voted to leave Netherlands and go to North America. One of the leaders of the congregation was William Bradford; he was the first to call himself and his fellow followers Pilgrims. The decision to leave Europe was not easy. Stories had come back from America about failed colonies. There were fears that the native people would be violent, that there would be no source of food or water and the travel by sea was dangerous. But Virginia was an attractive destination because the presence of the older colony offered better security and trade opportunities.
Through the friendship of Sir Edwin Sandys, the treasurer of the London Company, they purchased a little vessel known as the Speedwell and hired another which was the Mayflower. In July 1620, Pilgrims returned briefly to England on-board of the Speedwell to join to the bigger Mayflower. After three years of negotiations, planning and preparations a grant was secured from the Virginia Company to settle in the Hudson Valley and in September 5th 1620, the ships set sail from Southampton, England. The date is Old Style as the Gregorian calendar had not yet been accepted by England.
The ships had to return to port twice to repair the Speedwell because the vessel had developed a leak. Finally, the Speedwell's captain and many of the crew transferred to the Mayflower and it set out alone. They set sail in September 6, captained by Christopher Johns and with 102 passengers on board. The Mayflower was finally on way to America. Not all of the passengers that travelled sought religion freedom. Some of them made the trip in search of economic opportunity and some were farm workers who desired land of their own. Pilgrims called them “Strangers”.