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In 1620 the ship Mayflower departed from England for the New World. Many of those on board were religious dissenters, known then as Separatists and later as Pilgrims or Puritans, who preferred to separate altogether from the Church of England rather than try to change the church as other dissenters attempted to do. The passengers also included emigrants who were not members of the Separatist congregation. The combined group of Separatists and "strangers," as they were called by the Separatists, had obtained a charter from the Virginia Company of London, giving them permission to settle within the boundaries of the colony of Virginia.
The Mayflower, however, did not reach Virginia. Instead, it arrived off the coast of what is now Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which was not within the boundaries of any established colonial government. The strangers asserted that they would not be bound by any laws, but William Bradford, the Separatists' leader, insisted that all male passengers sign an agreement to abide by the laws that the colonial leaders would establish at the colony they called Plymouth.
On November 21, 1620, forty-one adult male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact. The compact served as a device to preserve order and establish rules for self-government. The signers agreed to combine themselves into a "civil Body Politick" that would enact and obey "just and equal laws" that were made for the "general good of the colony." This commitment to justice and equality would be reiterated in many later documents, including the U.S. Constitution. Source: Ben Perley Poore, ed., The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the United States, vol. 1 (1878), p. 931.
1 English monarchs styled themselves king or queen of France between 1340 and 1801. The custom began when the English became embroiled in the Hundred Years War with France and King Edward III of England, whose mother was a French princess, claimed the French throne.
In the name of God, amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, king, defender of the faith, &c. Having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and the honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the reign of our sovereign lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland, the fifty-fourth, anno Domini, 1620.1Mr. John Carver
Mr. William Bradford
Mr. Edward Winslow
Mr. William Brewster
Mr. Samuel Fuller
Mr. Christopher Martin
Mr. William Mullins
Mr. William White
Mr. Richard Warren
Mr. Steven Hopkins
Mr. John Allerton