The Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony. It was drafted by the Pilgrims who crossed the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower, seeking religious freedom. It was signed on November 11, 1620 (O.S.) in what is now Provincetown Harbor near Cape Cod. The Pilgrims used the Julian Calendar which, at that time, was ten days behind the Gregorian Calendar, signing the covenant "ye .11. of November" (literal). Having landed at Plymouth (so named by Captain John Smith earlier), many of the Pilgrims aboard realized that they were in land uncharted by the London Company. For this reason the Mayflower Compact was written and adopted, based simultaneously upon a majoritarian model and the settlers' allegiance to the king. Many of the passengers knew that earlier settlements in the New World had failed due to a lack of government, and the Mayflower Compact was in essence a social contract in which the settlers consented to follow the rules and regulations of the government for the sake of survival. The government, in return, would derive its power from the consent of the governed.

The compact is often referred to as the foundation of the Constitution of the United States, in a figurative, not literal, way, although is often mistakenly thought to be the first Constitution in America. The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut actually hold this honor. As a side note, the 'dread soveraigne' referred to in the document used the archaic definition of dread; meaning awe and reverence (for the King), but not fear.



Text of the Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower Compact was drawn up on the Mayflower, under these circumstances as described by Gov. William Bradford: "This day, before we came to harbour, observing some not well affected to unity and concord, but gave some appearance of faction, it was thought good there should be an association and agreement, that we should combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose, and set our hands to this that follows, word for word. . ."

Bradford's transcription of the compact

The original document was lost, but the transcriptions in Mourt's Relation and William Bradford's journal Of Plymouth Plantation are in agreement and accepted as accurate. Bradford's hand written manuscript is kept in a special vault at the State Library of Massachusetts Bradford's transcription is as follows (Contains original 1630s spelling):
In ye name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwriten, ye loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord King James by ye grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, & Ireland king, defender of ye faith, e&
Haveing undertaken, for ye glorie of god, and advancemente of ye Christian faith and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just & equall lawes, ordinances, Acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete & convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witnes wherof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye 11 of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne Lord King James, of England, France, & Ireland ye eighteenth, and of Scotland ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620.

Translation in Modern day English

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 advancement of the Christian faith, and 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 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 11 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 Domine 1620.