November 13, 2018

A COVENANTING PEOPLE:

My America, 1620 (Bradley J. Birzer, 11/08/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Armed with scripture, the English Common Law, some weapons, families (for social stability), and an audacity rarely witnessed in the history of human kind, the Pilgrims made a go of it. To establish the import of the moment of community creation and to solidify their fragile community itself, the Pilgrims wrote a covenant, now incorrectly labeled the "Mayflower Compact." While the re-naming of this document demands its own essay, suffice it to note here: New England historians and archivists employed the name "Mayflower Compact" for the first time ever in the early 1790s. Attempting to define American history from Plymouth Rock, not from Charleston or some other southern port of entry, the New Englanders of the 1790s renamed the document so as not to put off non-religious Americans. Compact, after all, was more acceptable for a secular, liberal, and Lockean people. Its original name--the Plymouth Combination--made its authors too much into exactly what they were--a radically religious sect of people. When the Pilgrims used "Combination," they meant it quite literally. Combination was the English term for "covenant."

It's worth reproducing here:

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.

Once again, just imagine the audacity. With no king, no judges, no lawyers, no bureaucrats, and no bishops, a small group of people asserted the right to govern themselves as they saw fit. Though only half of the sojourners and half of the strangers made it through the winter of 1620-1621, it would be impossible to call the experiment a failure. After all, half did survive, rule themselves, and established the pattern for almost all settlement of what would become the United States.

Posted by at November 13, 2018 12:59 AM

  

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