More than a century before the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or even the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the Mayflower Compact outlined the rules under which a community of new American colonists agreed to govern themselves.
They were blown off course by a storm and landed far north of what was then known as the colony of Virginia, where they were chartered to settle.
Many of the 102 passengers who survived the crossing in the tiny ship’s cargo holds were Separatists who had come seeking religious freedom from the Church of England. Others had set out for Virginia seeking fortune or adventure. Far from the support of other colonists, and with a harsh New England winter coming on, they had to agree to work together for the common good.
Pilgrim leaders William Bradford and William Brewster drafted the agreement before the settlers went ashore. In it, the settlers agreed to form a “body politic” to form a government, and to abide by the laws that would be established for the “general good of the colony.” It was signed on November 11, 1620 (Old Style calendar, or November 21 today.)
The history of the Plymouth Colony is dramatic and often controversial, but that one act planted the seed of self-governance, freedom, and independence that we enjoy today.