Colonial Government and Politics

Start Free Trial

What's the importance of the Mayflower Compact?

Expert Answers

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

The importance of the Mayflower Compact lies in the fact that it was the first written framework of government in American history. The drawing up and signing of the Compact came at a moment of great tension aboard ship. The Mayflower had been blown off course in high winds and...

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

The importance of the Mayflower Compact lies in the fact that it was the first written framework of government in American history. The drawing up and signing of the Compact came at a moment of great tension aboard ship. The Mayflower had been blown off course in high winds and stormy seas. This led to the ship and all its passengers being forced to land at Cape Cod, outside the jurisdiction of the Virginia Company, which had granted the Mayflower's passengers their charter. Some of the passengers saw this as an opportunity to break free and go their own way. A majority aboard ship disagreed, but still some form of compromise was necessary to quell the growing dissension. Hence the drawing up of the Mayflower Compact as a means of binding the pilgrims together.

Although the Compact wasn't strictly speaking a constitution, it did nonetheless possess certain formal similarities to later constitutions and charters drawn up at the state and federal level. It was essentially a preliminary measure, a way of getting the pilgrims to agree to abide by any laws and regulations that would subsequently be established on American soil. In other words, unlike a constitution, the Compact didn't specify the actual laws of the new settlement, but rather expressed a commitment to abide by such laws as and when they were eventually established. The lasting significance of the Mayflower Compact, then, is that it established the principles of self-government and common consent, an important first step on the road to democratic government in what would become the United States.

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

The Mayflower Compact was signed in November of 1620, shortly after the Pilgrims landed in what is now known as Cape Cod. The Mayflower Compact is important because it was the first established, written form of a government in the New World.

When the Mayflower ship docked after a tumultuous time at sea, several of the men on board threatened to mutiny. They wanted to mutiny because the Mayflower did not reach its original goal of what is now the Hudson River. To try to squash that behavior and talk, the men on board brought forth their version of a government. 

The Mayflower Compact was important because it showed that, even though the men were still technically citizens of England, they realized England could not govern them as well from across the ocean. Because they established this form of written government, it set a precedent for other settlements to follow suit. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team