Friday Ephemera – Pilgrims and Politicks

I guess this isn’t technically ephemera, seeing as The Mayflower Compact was definitely intended to be retained and preserved, but I thought it was fitting for the holiday and rather fascinating in its original form. I realized, in looking this up, that I don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen a picture of the Mayflower Compact, and recalling all that we learned about it in grade school Social Studies classes, I had envisioned it much differently. Way more like the Declaration of Independence and much less like the scrawled diary entry of someone with regrettable penmanship. Of course, I suppose I’d have pretty shaky handwriting too if I’d been ravaged with scurvy in a ship more crowded than an LSU frat party for the past 66 days.

In case you can’t read seasick 17th-century shorthand, here’s a transcript:

Agreement Between the Settlers at New Plymouth : 1620
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.
Interestingly enough, there’s a few other little details that Mrs. Malter forgot to include in my 4th grade lesson plan. Does anyone else remember getting taught about the Mayflower Compact as though it were this great, sacred document that bound its signers together in unity and paved the way for our great democracy, with all the jaundiced pilgrims waving it over their heads in joy as they kissed the cold Massachusetts ground?

Yeah….not exactly the case. Apparently, the reason for the Compact was to for the Seperatists (the religious dissenters we traditionally consider “the pilgrims”) to legally prevent the non-Seperatists from bailing on them after the original landing location was changed from Virginia to Plymouth. After two months at sea with each other in the aforementioned lovely conditions, these two groups had pretty much had enough of each other and the non-Seperatists, who comprised more than half of the group, were pretty much ready to say “It’s not you, it’s me” as soon as they dropped anchor. So the Compact was basically a ploy by the ruling minority to enforce their will over the entirety of the group packaged as a unified agreement among equals.

Hmm…on second thought, maybe it paved the way for American democracy after all. =)

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