Colonial Government and Politics

Start Free Trial

What is the significance of the Mayflower Compact?

Expert Answers

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

When the colonists first arrived in the new, unsettled continent, they quickly realized many of the traditional laws and regulations that worked well in the civil society of England were not as easily transferable to the untamed continent. The Mayflower Compact was a set of practical rules guiding the settlement...

Unlock
This Answer Now

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

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

When the colonists first arrived in the new, unsettled continent, they quickly realized many of the traditional laws and regulations that worked well in the civil society of England were not as easily transferable to the untamed continent. The Mayflower Compact was a set of practical rules guiding the settlement more applicable to the setting. If there was one thing the settlers agreed on, it was that without a guiding set of regulations for self-governance in the colonies, the results would be chaos. The Mayflower Compact did not relieve the colonists of being under the authority of the English civil and criminal law system. The compact provided a method for local authorities to deal with domestic issues without having to wait for months for legal decisions from the home country, Great Britain.

Not all historians agree the Mayflower Compact was a significant step in self-governance, serving as the foundation to American independence (as some historians believe). The Mayflower Compact was a temporary set of laws. It required the colonists to remain committed to the authority of King James, practice the Christian faith, and abide by the rules of the leadership of the colony. From this perspective, it is hard to see how self-governance was the founding principle of the document. The document had the agreement of forty-one of the one hundred or so passengers, of which thirty were probably crew members under the authority of the captain and with little recourse but to agree.

Nevertheless, the Mayflower document is significant because it is the first document signed in the New World that allowed for self-governance. It created a democratic, in place of autocratic, governing authority. The Mayflower Compact was a template and blueprint for similar colonization in the New World. From a social perspective, the Mayflower Compact created a sense of unity which no doubt was very much needed if the settlers were to survive and thrive in the New World.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team