401 Years of the Mayflower Compact (a Day Thread)

On November 21st, 1620 (in the modern calendar; in the calendar used then, November 11th) a ship of about 100 refugees of religious persecution landed in what is now Providencetown Harbor near the end of Cape Cod in modern-day Massachusetts. Before leaving the ship, the men aboard signed the following agreement:

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 the 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 another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: and by virtue hereof do 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 hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

Of particular note to me: use of the phrase “civil body politick.” The Pilgrims had seen in England how the marriage of religion and government could be dangerous to those outside the official faith. And while they found they could not live as Englishmen in Holland, their short time there after fleeing England led them to appreciate the secular state; due to the Dutch influence, marriage in the Plymouth colony was a civil ceremony, not a religious one.

It was the first document to seriously attempt to establish a New World government and, to quote historian Nathaniel Philbrick, “Just as a spiritual covenant had marked the beginning of their congregation in Leiden, a civil covenant would provide the basis for a secular government in America.”