log cabin with chimney surrounded by a fence set in a wintertime scene

History of Plymouth Plantation

by William Bradford

Start Free Trial

Analyze: What does the Mayflower Compact explicitly say? What does it suggest through its careful diction, or word choice, and use of imagery?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Mayflower Compact established the rules by which the Pilgrims would abide in their new colony. Written in 1620, it established allegiance to the king of England. The document also stated that the members of the colony would create a "civil body politic," or a self-government, by which they would...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The Mayflower Compact established the rules by which the Pilgrims would abide in their new colony. Written in 1620, it established allegiance to the king of England. The document also stated that the members of the colony would create a "civil body politic," or a self-government, by which they would make the laws and regulations that were best for the ruling of the colony. The signatories also promised allegiance to the colony and promised to serve its needs.

The document is carefully worded, and its diction is quite clever. The document commits the colonists to both the king and to the colony. The way in which the document is phrased makes no distinction between being loyal to God, to the king of England, or to the colony. Instead, the document suggests that it is possible for the colonists to be loyal to king, country, and colony, and the document is careful to avoid a distinction between loyalty to these different elements.

The imagery conveyed by the document is solemn, or serious. The document presents a picture of the colonists signing the compact "solemnly" and in the company of each other. The image is one of seriousness, mutual respect, and obedience. It's also one in which the colonists believe they are in the presence of God, and they take that commitment very seriously.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Mayflower Compact acknowledges that the signatories will remain loyal to their sovereign, King James, and to their mission, establishing a religious colony for "the advancement of the Christian faith." They recognize King James as both their king and religious authority.

Furthermore, the men who signed the compact agree that they are forming a self-governing body to organize the colony and preserve the mission. They are empowering themselves to establish laws, acts, constitutions, ordinances and elect or appoint officers to act in the best interest of the colony. They pledge their "obedience" to carrying out these intentions and sign their names to the compact that they are all agreeing to.

The word "covenant" has both a religious connotation as well as the denotation that the men who have signed are all in agreement.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the Mayflower Compact, the pilgrims start by expressing their unswerving loyalty to King James I:

In ye name of God Amen· We whose names are vnderwriten, 
the loyall subjects of our dread soueraigne Lord King James 
by ye grace of God, of great Britaine, franc, & Ireland king, 
defender of ye faith, &c."

The pilgrims had unintentionally arrived at Cape Cod, miles from their destination in Virginia due to storms and inclement weather. They now found themselves outside the boundaries of the Virginia Company patent which had been granted by the king. This led to a number of pilgrims on board The Mayflower insisting that they were no longer answerable to the terms of the original patent. The Compact was a response to the incipient rebellion, an attempt to impose some semblance of order upon an increasingly mutinous ship's company. That being the case, it was necessary for the pilgrims to begin their document with an open expression of loyalty to the king who had granted the Virginia Company their Royal Charter.

Haueing vndertaken, for ye glorie of God, and aduancemente 
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, couenant, & combine our selues togeather into a 
ciuill body politick; for ye our better ordering, & preseruation & fur=
therance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof, to enacte, 
constitute, and frame shuch just & equall lawes, ordinances, 
Acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought 
most meete & conuenient for ye generall good of ye colonie:  vnto 
which we promise all due submission and obedience.  In witnes 
wherof we haue herevnder subscribed our names at Cap=
Codd ye ·11· of Nouember, in ye year of ye raigne of our soueraigne 
Lord king James of England, france, & Ireland ye eighteenth 
and of Scotland ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom ·1620·

In the remainder of the document, the pilgrims formalize their establishment of a government, a "civil body politick" to which they agree to subject themselves upon landing. The message is clear: the pilgrims may be outside the boundaries of the original legal agreement but they are not outside the law. They have established a temporary government, and it will be a government of laws. The king did not authorize the unleashing of anarchy upon the colonies, and he can be sure that the pilgrims will behave as decent, upstanding British subjects should. The pilgrims solemnly swear before God that they will establish a lawful government in full obedience to King James. Swearing to God gives the pilgrims' words an added force as no one could truly doubt their Christian faith. These words are chosen carefully to provide reassurance to the king that the pilgrims are genuine in their stated aim to set up a civil government on American soil under his sovereignty.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team