November 22, 2020 | From Providence Foundation
November 11 marked the 400th anniversary of the signing of the Mayflower Compact, one of the most significant of the founding political documents in America. It was written by a small group of English separatists seeking religious and civil freedom, who were undertaking the planting of a colony “for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith.” The Compact contains principles of self-government and covenant, which are foundational to American constitutionalism. Andrew McLaughlin writes that “[b]ehind the compact lie the Puritan beliefs in the word of God as a higher law, the establishment of the higher law in written documents, and the formation of government by the consent of individuals.”
The covenantal nature of American constitutionalism can be traced to these settlers, who on November 11, 1620, still on board the Mayflower, “Do… solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together in to a civil Body Politick.”
This political document had its origin in the church covenant the Pilgrims had drawn up years earlier—their political philosophy was derived from their Puritan theology.
This theology found in the Scriptures the right of men to associate and covenant to form a church and civil government and to choose their own officers to administer both religious and civil affairs. Each member of the congregation had a vote in the election of officers, and each congregation was considered as independent and autonomous of every other and not subject to the authority of any centralized church hierarchy.
In 1623 the Pilgrims instituted trial by jury and private property rights. In 1636 they compiled “the first comprehensive body of law in North America,” which served as a model for future American codes of laws. These laws were based upon Scripture and English precedent. The Laws of the Pilgrims were later revised in 1658, 1671, and 1685, but they all were based upon the idea that the only true law was the law of God as revealed in the Bible. The preface to the 1671 Book of Laws states that “Laws…are so far good and wholesome, as by how much they are derived from, and agreeable to the ancient Platform of Gods Law.” The specific statutes reflected their biblical philosophy of life. They even quoted Scriptures to support many of their capital laws.
Many of the governmental ideas in the Mayflower Compact are seen in the U.S. Constitution. American constitutionalism has been a keystone in the establishment of civil liberty in recent history. It has been said that next to the Holy Bible, America’s Constitution is the most important document ever written for the benefit of mankind. Such a statement seems justified when you consider that since the United States Constitution went into effect about two hundred and thirty years ago, over 175 nations have adopted constitutions, most modeled on that of America. To the extent these nations have applied, both internally and externally, the governmental principles in that document is the extent to which they have experienced liberty, justice, and prosperity. The civil liberty the world has experienced in the past two centuries is largely due to the gradual expansion of American constitutionalism, and its seed was found in the Mayflower Compact.
(Used with permission from Providence Foundation. Article by Stephen McDowell. Photo Credit: Canva.)