I grew up in a church that had a little piece of the Mayflower encased in glass. That’s right, when the Mayflower was decommissioned, it was torn apart and turned into a barn, and our pastor made a pilgrimage to that barn and stuck a little piece of it in his pocket. Above that Congregationalist relic hung a framed reproduction of the Mayflower Compact.
I was joking with a Canadian friend this week that he didn’t have anything to celebrate over the coming weekend, and he joked right back that he doesn’t believe in “faux narratives involving colonialism without genocide.” He’s got a point, of course. Whole nations of Native Americans were wiped out by violence and disease brought by the colonists.
However, they weren’t all bad. As the colonists sat on the Mayflower, searching for a landing spot north of the planned landing in Virginia. Sensing some dissension among the passengers, the leaders of the Separatists penned a short statement of their governance, and it records sensibilities of civility and proto-democracy that would be fleshed out in full in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution a century and a half later.
I suggest we all take a minute this Thanksgiving and read their brilliant, short Covenant with one another and God.
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, etc.
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and 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 of 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 to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, 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 hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620