Colonial Government and Politics

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What's the importance of the Mayflower Compact?

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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.

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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. 

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Why was the Mayflower Compact needed? 

There are at least two reasons why the Pilgrims felt that they needed the Mayflower Compact.

First, the idea of covenants was very important to them.  Puritans saw their relationship with God as one that rested on a contract or covenant.  Therefore, it makes sense that they would want to have a covenant to bind their community together.

Second, and more practically, they felt the Compact was needed to establish a legal basis for their government.  They were not going to settle in the place (Northern Virginia) that their...

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charter called for.  This breach of their charter led some to argue that the whole government of the colony was invalid.  Therefore, they felt they needed this Compact to give the government a legal foundation.

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What was the purpose of the Mayflower Compact?

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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Why was the Mayflower Compact important to the founding of our country?

People typically say that the Mayflower Compact was important to the founding of our country because it established the ideas of self-government, of democracy, and of written constitutions.  These became some of the most basic values of our government.

The Mayflower Compact is a very short document.  In it, the 41 white men who signed said that they were agreeing to be ruled by a government that they would set up.  In other words, they were all consenting to be ruled by the government.  About 150 years later, Thomas Jefferson would write that government got its powers from the consent of the people.  In the Mayflower Compact, the people (or at least the white men who were not servants) were consenting to be governed.  The Compact also said that people would get together from time to time to vote on laws.  This is a fundamental aspect of democracy.  Another fundamental aspect of democracy is the idea that laws should apply to everyone equally.  The Compact says that the laws they will make will be “just and equal laws.”  Overall, this is a constitution of sorts because it is a written document saying what their government will have the power to do.

Because the Mayflower Compact included all of these things that became important to American government, it is typically seen as an important document in the founding of our country.

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