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Mayflower Compact: Definition, Summary & History

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  • 0:05 A Social Contract
  • 0:57 In the Compact
  • 1:55 History
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michael Knoedl

Michael teaches high school Social Studies and has a M.S. in Sports Management.

The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document in what is now the United States. It even helped establish the direct election of representatives in the colonies that eventually carried over to the new nation! Learn what the Compact was about and why it was necessary.

A Social Contract

Every year, Americans move from the cities to the suburbs to trade in their apartments for family homes. Many times, they must sign an agreement with the local Home Owners Association that they will live by certain rules in that particular neighborhood. These rules are usually meant to keep order, cleanliness, and peace in a small community. These agreements are very similar to the agreement signed by 41 males on the Mayflower in 1620.

A compact is an agreement, or contract, that people agree to. The Mayflower Compact was an agreement between 41 men aboard the Mayflower to live by a social contract. A social contract means that people are willing to give up some of their individual rights to have other rights and protections as a group. Especially in an unsettled area, the idea of a social contract was much better for the Puritans than an 'every man for himself' type of approach.

In the Compact

The Mayflower Compact was written in a style that is similar to a prayer. Most passengers aboard the Mayflower were trying to escape religious persecution by King James in Great Britain, so it is no surprise that their religion is mentioned many times in the document. This persecution was more along the lines of a disagreement in theory and not usually a physical battle. The Pilgrims, as these Puritans would come to be known, wrote in the document that they had undertaken this voyage for the glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith.

The compact did not have a lot of teeth as far as specific rules or laws, but simply bound the group together for the general good of the colony. The signers all agreed to fall under the authority provided by the Mayflower Compact and to create laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices to govern the new colony. The signers would vote directly on important issues to the colony and agreed to hold regular meetings to discuss important matters.

History

The Pilgrims were Puritans, or Protestant Christians, who were trying to escape the leadership of the king and Anglican Church because they did not believe they were living according to the teachings in the Bible and were trying to find a better place to grow their faith. They did not believe that the influence held over their faith by the king was proper and wanted to separate from that rule, which is why they were also referred to as Separatists. Many Puritans had moved away from Great Britain but still were not happy with their ability to practice their religion. In 1620, they decided to contract out the Mayflower to bring them to Virginia.

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