Colonial Government and Politics

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What was the purpose of the Mayflower Compact?

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The Mayflower Compact was written to guide the English settlers arriving on the American shores by way of the sailing vessel "the Mayflower". The rules established how the new arrivals intended to be governed. Although they had laws they would bring from their home country of England, many of those laws were not practical and relevant to the arduous task of taming an unexplored land. The Mayflower Compact provided a sense of stability and a practical guide for how the settlers would proceed as a society.

Historians believe the rules were not intended to be permanent even though the Mayflower Compact remained in force until about 1691. The British colonists would remain as loyal British citizens and, as such, remained under the authority of the British government. However, the situation in the new world was unique, and historians believe that at the urging of William Bradford, who anticipated potential problems, the compact was created. How much regular citizens participated in the creation of the document is unclear. For the most part, citizens agreed and were willing to abide by the general principles stated in the document as it applied to their daily lives.

The document is brief and states some general principles. For example, while recognizing the practicality of establishing an independent governing body for the settlement, the settlers would remain committed to King James and the British governmental authorities. The Mayflower Compact required colonists to live as Christians and to act in accordance with the decisions made by the majority that best benefited all of the settlement, placing the welfare of the colony as the priority over self-interest.

The Mayflower Compact is an important document, as the document establishes the first self-rule and democratic process in the colonies.

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