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The First Self Governing Document

By Michelle Hazekamp

November 30, 2021

We often think of The Constitution as the first document establishing a government ruled by the people, for the people.

However, an earlier document establishing self governance by giving power to the people was created in 1620. This document is known as "The Mayflower Compact."

Thanksgiving has Minimized the Pilgrims Role as Founding Fathers

Little has been taught in our history classes about the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. It seems we were rushed through the story, told how they sailed on the Mayflower, did not land where they were supposed to and briefed on the Mayflower Compact, while the main focus is placed on what became the most famous dinner in American history, Thanksgiving. Do we actually remember what the Mayflower Compact represented? How often is it in your thoughts when reminiscing about the founding of our country? When you think of our Founding Fathers, do the Pilgrims ever enter your mind? When I remember Thanksgiving Day as a child, my cousins and I would play pilgrims and Indians all day, mostly playing war. I remember the school plays where half the students would dress up as pilgrims and the other half as Indians, signing songs in front of our parents. As I advanced in age, more time was spent learning about other American history such as the Revolutionary War and Civil War, etc. I really don't remember learning any more about the Pilgrims after elementary school. As the first "Thanksgiving Dinner" consumed the pilgrim story, a tradition worthy of celebration for certain, it has minimized the importance of the Pilgrims' role in the founding of America and invoking their God given freedoms and liberties by forming the first self governing document and settlement.

Who Were the Pilgrims

The pilgrims were a sect of Puritans called Separatists. They disagreed with the established Church of England, because in their minds it resembled the Catholic Church. To them, the Church of England violated Biblical precepts for true Christians and still held Catholic influences. It was unlawful to go against the Church of England and meet in private settings, thereby leading to persecution and/or prison. For three years the Pilgrims sought refuge in other parts of England and eventually had to flee the country by emigrating to Leiden, Amsterdam where their religion was tolerated. In 1618, after a decade of living in Holland, Europe was on the cusp of one of its most violent periods in history, the Thirty Year War. The war put Protestant and Catholic European powers against each other and the pilgrims decided it was time to leave the Old World for a new one where they could live in religious freedom.

The Journey to the New World

The Pilgrims were able to save enough money to charter the Mayflower, which would bring them to the already established colony of Jamestown, Virginia. They would again live under the rule of King James, however, the separation of continents provided a safeguard for their religious practices. They were given a land grant north of the Jamestown colony to settle, which also provided separation from any persecution within Jamestown. They received financing from London bankers with the agreement of re-paying their debts from their labors in the New World. However, the financiers also insisted they permit other "non-religious" settlers to travel with them, who they called "The Strangers." Getting there was the hardest part. The Mayflower set sail with 102 people on September 6, 1620; one of the worst times of the year to sail in the Atlantic as it was known to be the season for tumultuous storms. By the grace of God, they arrived 65 days later, on November 9th, but not in Jamestown. They were blown 200 miles off course due to storms and landed at Plymouth Rock instead.

A Governance of Self Accountability and Preservation of Order

After arriving at Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims realized they had no one to greet them, no homes prepared for them and a very small amount of provisions left to get them through the winter. At their planned destination of Virginia, the existing colonists were expecting them and would have prepared for their arrival. But, the Pilgrims were completely on their own with no direction or guidance other than God. In the mean time, conflict arose between the Strangers and the Pilgrims, as the Strangers had no allegiance to the Pilgrims and it was every man for himself. With winter approaching the Pilgrims knew they had to stick together if they were going to survive. With no leadership or rule of law in place, they consented to and signed an agreement to hold themselves accountable by way of self governance while electing officers to preserve order. Thus, the Mayflower Compact was formed and signed by 41 men who were the heads of their households.

The Words of the Mayflower Compact:

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 Honour 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 Politick, 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

Out of a Mustard Seed

I am not trying to minimize our "other" Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, etc., as their role in the founding of our nation is great, but rather I am pointing out the role the Pilgrims played in the ideology of what would become our Constitution. And even the Founding Fathers, such as John Quincy Adams referred to the Pilgrims as America's founders, defined by their virtue, not their conquest. The Mayflower Compact was only a paragraph, a mustard seed of faith. And it is from this mustard seed where our Constitution found its origins and grew into the masterpiece that would make America the greatest country of all time.

In ending; we should be Thankful to the Lord, God Almighty for his mercy and blessings given to us all by way of the bravery and brilliance accumulated from ALL our Founding Fathers and the words divinely guided on these documents that born to us the gifts of freedom and liberty we so mercifully inherited.


You can read more in-depth details of the Pilgrims story by clicking on the links below:


Michelle Hazekamp is a conservative Christian and a business owner in Muskegon County. She is the current Chair of the Communications Committee for the Muskegon GOP and a Delegate. She is a graduate of Grand Valley State University with a Bachelor Degree in Science and a minor in History.




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