November 22, 2012
FROM THE THANKSGIVING ARCHIVES: LEADING THE WAY:The way of the Pilgrims (H.D.S. Greenway, 11/29/2002
IT WAS SCARCELY more than a couple of hundred words, written, signed, and sworn to in the cabin of a battered ship heaving in a cold November sea, at anchor in what is now Provincetown Harbor; Nov. 11, 1620. The Mayflower Compact, as it was called, was a revolutionary document for its time.
The signers promised to ''combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation.'' They promised 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.''
Thus did the Mayflower Pilgrims create the continent's first government by social contract - a precedent for the founding of our nation in 1776.
Of course, the Pilgrims were not founding a new nation. They were ''loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, king and defender of the faith.'' ''The greatest question ... ever debated in America,'' as John Adams would later write - whether to be free from Britain - was far in the future. But the Pilgrims would not accept the established faith that King James was defending. And the equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices that would follow laid the groundwork for the great republic that was to come. The civil body politic that they swore to on that cold, November day is one that Americans now take for granted.
They were not a tolerant crowd. The equality that Abraham Lincoln would later speak of did not apply then to all races and creeds - an omission that haunts us even now. But the act of submission and obedience to just and equal laws, the determination to live self-governing lives, was a new concept then, and all too rare in the world even today. ''We must never forget this,'' the historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote, ''for in the colonies of other European nations the will of the prince, or his representative, was supreme.''
You read a lot of vile nonsense about the Pilgrims these days, from people who seem not to comprehend the direct relationship between the ideas they carried and the system of government we enjoy. Hereï¿½s a nice corrective. (originally posted: 11/29/02) Posted by oj at November 22, 2012 12:07 AM