The Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact as a Covenant
When the Pilgrims came to America, they landed in unchartered territory, in present-day Massachusetts. Realizing they were outside England’s chartered bounds, some non-Pilgrims or “strangers” on board the Mayflower talked of leaving the group and venturing out on their own. But the Pilgrims had selected every man on the trip according to his particular skills. They depended on one another for survival. So, while aboard the Mayflower vessel, they made an unprecedented decision to draft and sign their own charter. The “Mayflower Compact,” as it became known, was a written agreement or covenant among themselves under God to stick together, create a civil body, and enact just laws in their new colony of Plymouth. The contract was signed on November 11, 1620, by all heads of households, Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims alike.
With their Mayflower Compact, the Pilgrims applied the principle of covenants to found their new colony of Plymouth in America. A covenant is a voluntary, moral agreement or pact between two or more free and consenting parties, usually for a religious or civil purpose. The Pilgrims derived this idea from the Bible—which tells the story of the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament and the early Christians in the New Testament. Covenants are the means by which God often relates with humans and how humans may effectively relate with one another. They are found in the Bible, for example, in Genesis, Exodus, Matthew, and Hebrews.
In the Old Testament, for example, God covenants with Moses and the Israelites. The Israelites receive from God at Mount Sinai the terms of this covenant to be God’s people. These terms—the Ten Commandments—are found in Exodus 20 and 34.
The Pilgrims had, for a long time, practiced covenants in their churches, and they applied this principle when creating their first civil covenant, the Mayflower Compact, in America. The Mayflower Compact states,
We whose names are underwritten…do solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic. [boldface mine]
This type of agreement would serve as a key founding principle, later secularized and applied as social contract, for a new nation.
Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.
Source for more information:
Kamrath, Angela E. The Miracle of America: The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief. Second Edition. Houston, TX: American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015. Third edition (2020) is available!
1. The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2. Who were the Pilgrims? Why did they come to America?
3. Why the Pilgrims Identified with the Israelites
4. The Mayflower Compact: The Pilgrims’ First Self-Governing Act in America
5: The Pilgrims and Private Property: What the Pilgrims Might Have Thought About Communism and Socialism
6. The History of Thanksgiving Day in America
7. Three P’s That Led to Freedom in the West: Printing Press, Protestant Reformation, & Pilgrims
8. American Revolution Debate: The Principle of Civil Covenants
9. The American Social Contract
Activity 1: The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 2, Part 2, Activity 5: Analyzing the Mayflower Compact, pp. 80-81, 335-336. MS-HS.
Analyzing the Mayflower Compact
Purpose/Objective: Students learn about and analyze the Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact, including its historical context, purpose, content, principles, and significance.
Suggested Reading: Chapter 2 of Miracle of America sourcebook/text. Students read sections 2.1-2.6 and p. 63. Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact.
- Read Mayflower Compact. Students use APPARTS to examine/discover what the document means & its significance. See “APPARTS” handout in the “Supporting Resources” section of this course guide, p. 335.
- Author – Who created the source? What do you know about the author? What is the author’s point of view?
Place and Time – Where and when was the source produced? How might this affect the meaning of the source?
- Prior Knowledge – Beyond MC’s author and context of creation, what do you know that would help you further understand the primary source? For example, do you recognize any symbols and recall what they represent?
- Audience – For whom was the source created and how might this affect the reliability of the source?
- Reason – Why was this source produced at the time it was produced?
- The Main Idea – What point is the source trying to convey?
- Significance – Why is this source important? What inferences can you draw from this document? Ask yourself, “So what?”
- Mayflower Compact Activity: Organizer Chart. Read Mayflower Compact. Consider how it commits Pilgrims to religion, government, & civility. In the government section, make sure students consider where & how the agreement commits the Pilgrims to popular sovereignty and self-government. In the words of the Compact or in your own words, write the phrases that correspond to each of these areas of commitment. See “Mayflower Compact Activity” Organizer Chart in “Supporting Resources” section of this course guide, p. 336. This activity is also found in the Miracle of America sourcebook, Chapter 2, p. 65.
Activity 2: The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 2, Part 2, Activity 3: Principles of the Mayflower Compact, pp. 80, 331-334. MS-HS
Principles of the Mayflower Compact
Purpose/Objective: Students learn about the Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact and its application of covenants, popular sovereignty, and self-government.
Suggested Reading: Chapter 2 of Miracle of America sourcebook/text. Students read sections 2.2-2.6 and p. 63.
- Reading and Questions. Students read “Principles of the Mayflower Compact” handout and, as desired, relevant sections in Miracle of America text as indicated on handout. (The Miracle book is high-level reading, so if you wish to have students read directly from the book, assign specific sections (not too much) and then analyze and discuss the reading together as a class. You may wish to project some text on-screen. Answer questions, clarify vocabulary, and fill in other information as needed. The text analysis will help students grasp the terms and concepts, and it is great practice for having students read historical text.) After the reading, have students write answers to the questions on the handout. See additional Review Questions in Miracle of America text, Chapter 2, p. 64. Discuss.
- See “Principle of the Mayflower Compact” handout below: “Principles of the Mayflower Compact”
- The handout is also located in “Supporting Resources” section of this course guide, p. 331-334.
Primary Source Reading: New-England’s Memorial, or a Brief Relation of the Most Memorable and Remarkable Passages of the Providence of God, Manifested to the Planters of New-England in America, edited by Nathaniel Morton. Mayflower Compact, pp. 24-26. Google Books.
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