Of the Mayflower Compact


Upon dropping anchor off Cape Cod in 1620, the men on board the Mayflower convened to draft a compact that would be bound by law and create a government. The immediate cause of the compact was the fear of non Separatists (called Strangers) on board the ship. These individuals were financial backers of the new colonial experiment, and it was feared that they would defy the Separatists if they landed in an area other than what had been given to them by the London Company. The Mayflower Compact is more vital than some may wish to admit. Unlike their Puritan neighbors in Boston Harbor, the Pilgrims were separatists. The Pilgrims wanted a complete separate between the English Church and the Roman Church; the Church of England still held very many vestiges of the Roman Church until well after the separation took place. And because the Church of England was lead by the King, the Pilgrims not only viewed the Church to be utterly corrupt but also the state.   Upon examining the Mayflower Compact, we may better understand the American Revolution a century later.

It should be pointed out that the first words of the compact are “In the name of God”, as Willmoore Kendall suggests, “The one God is called to witness the compact that is about to be made. And we may safely assume that none of the signers of this oath is taking the matter lightly. Any subsequent violation of this oath will be no mere breaking a promise but an offense against God…” The Pilgrims acknowledge God first and never exclaim the name of the King for who they make this compact. The Pilgrims have acknowledge that their right to compact is granted to them by God by their pronouncement of “In the Name of God” with the Hebrew word “Amen” meaning “Let it be done” following. This is an important step because they are acknowledging that their authority does not come from the King, but rather it comes from God. As Willmoore Kendall once more explains, “In Western Civilization basic symbolizations tend to be variants of the original symbolization of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition: variants, this is to say, of the tale according to which a founder, Moses, leads the people out of the realm of darkness, Egypt, into the desert…” And as we can see from this, the Pilgrims are fleeing their own Egypt for the safety of Plymouth. Like the Israelites, the Pilgrims are not acknowledging the authority to constitute government stemming not from the King, but from God.

The primary purpose of the mission is laid out in the first sentence of the compact, “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.” This is not uncommon, all colonies whether English, French or Spanish at this point were founded for, at least in name, the Glory of God and the Faith as well as for monarch and country. The French were less shy about also seeking riches in the Americas. So it is not unusual that the Separatists, who still viewed themselves as Englishmen, to acknowledge that their colony was founded to help God, the Church, King and Country. As such, the main purposes of this document are to demonstrate that the colony wants to promote God, religion, King, and country. It is interesting to point out that the Pilgrims list Faith and Church in front of Politics and State. By omitting the King’s name at the front of the document, and now here placing him subordinate to God and the Church, have inadvertedly stripped him of his power over them. The Mayflower Compact is forced to still recognize King James as their sovereign due to the large number of Strangers on board the ship. However, it is still significant that the King is subordinated under God. Like the Declaration will do a century later, they are displacing the King’s authority by acknowledge God’s authority as their means of receiving government. Like Moses and the other ancients before them, this society and body politic will simply be a divinely ordained society. As such, because its purposes are firstly divine, the citizens cannot revolt. Like the ancient regimes who were thought to be formed in the likeness of the gods, so too is the Plymouth society.

While the Pilgrims acknowledge the sovereignty of the King they still believed him unable to fulfill their perceived end of society: salvation. The Pilgrims maintained some hope that King James, a Presbyterian, would affect the changes they believed necessary in the Church of England. However, they were prepared for a total separation if James proved to be incapable of doing what they hoped. In addition to this explanation, it cannot be forgotten that the Pilgrims were far more willing to admit a strict alliance between Church and State. The English Monarchs for some time up to that point had declared their legitimacy was a by product of Divine Right and the Pilgrims whole hardheartedly supported that belief. Therefore, the King was subordinated beneath God as a way of rebellion against the still very Catholic monarchy. There cannot be too much emphasis placed on the desired separation from England by the Pilgrims, though the Compact is clear that the Pilgrims had by some right to govern themselves.

The next sentence of the Mayflower Compact is what might be of more use for our purposes.  The passengers “covenant and combine” themselves into a “body politic.” For those less aware, a body politic is a government strictly speaking. There are some who will argue that the passengers were hoping to only erect a temporary government for themselves, but this cannot be assumed just looking at the Compact. The colonists were erecting for themselves a government and it is rarely for a short time that people do such things. These words and what follows are almost entirely the same as the words which end the Declaration of Independence. This alone helps draw the connection between the purpose of the Declaration of Independence and the Mayflower Compact. Because the Pilgrims were persecuted by their own king in their home country, they were forced to flee to a distant and alien land to erect a new government more suited for their ends. As a result, by erecting this government, they were acknowledge not only had the King’s government infringed on their rights, but that the King was no longer able to provide them with the essential needs government is instituted for the begin with. As was pointed out with Aristotle and John Locke, these reasons alone are cause for a revolution in the government.

Yet, if this is not enough to sway you in this favor then the next sentence should be enough, “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.” The Pilgrims were no fools, they recognized that the government of England would not be able to properly govern the colony three thousand miles away. As a result, this new government established by the Pilgrims was given the power to legislate. If nothing else, the simple power of legislation is itself the power of government. And further, had the Pilgrims not entered into a body politic they would have properly been living in a state of nature with no impartial judge to settle their quarrels. As such, the Pilgrims not only enter into a civil government, but they also give it power to erect laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and officers of the colony. Under English law only the King has the authority to appoint officers, and only the parliament by virtue of its power from the King has the authority to erect laws, ordinances and acts. But the Pilgrims go yet still one step further by pledging their submission and obedience to this newly established regime.

The final nail in the coffin is that after signing this document, the Pilgrim men elected John Carver the first governor of the colony of Plymouth. His authority does not stem from good King James, but rather from the authority of the citizens of the colony. Had they merely been given their government, as had Jamestown, this would not been an issue. However, the Mayflower Compact was designed and instituted by the Pilgrims themselves, not by the London Company or the King. The Pilgrims, whether purposely or not, had erected a rival government to the authority of the King. They had no right to establish for themselves a government, or to elect a governor. They had given themselves authority equal to that of the British Parliament back in London. Ultimately, the Mayflower Compact can be seen as the first movement of the American Revolution. The Pilgrims had be confronted by an unjust government and fled to establish a new government. The tradition of self government in the Massachusetts colony began at Plymouth with the signing of the Mayflower Compact. By the end of the French and Indian War when the British government began taking a better look at her colonies in America, the people of Massachusetts and other colonies had a long history of self government. While the people of Plymouth may have called themselves British subjects, they had unconsciously recognized that they were no longer subjects of the crown of Great Britain by erecting their own government in its place.

Doctrine of Self Preservation


 

In the Summer of 1763 John Adams undertook the writing of an essay entitled “On Private Revenge.” The turmoil of the French and Indian War was only freshly over and the British Parliament in that same year adopted the Proclamation of 1763. The Proclamation granted control over the lands acquired through the Treaty of Paris to the British government, not the colonial governments. Within a decade the Parliament would go on to do more to seek retribution from the Colonies for the assistance England provided during the war. This enraged the passions of colonial Americans, specifically in New England in and around Boston. We must read Adams’ essay only in the light of these events. In his traditional style, Adams calls for law and order to persevere over chaos and anarchy.

The first paragraph of the essay sets up the plan Adams has laid out for his argument. In the Politics, Aristotle asserts that man outside of the city is either a beast or a god. Adams argues that man is distinguished from other animals because of his ability to unite and entire into society. The natural attributes of man are not enough to make him superior to other animals, but in fact Adams believes they would make man weakest of all other animals. What makes man superior is his ability to unite with others of his kind; thus agreeing with Aristotle partly by stating man outside of society is nothing more than a beast such as, “the bear or the tiger.” Within this man, like other animals, Adams argues, “As he comes originally from the hands of his Creator, self-love or self-preservation is the only spring that moves him.” Locke argues that the law of nature is only known through reason, with exception of the first law which is that of self-preservation. Hobbes too argues that within society the Magistrate is capable of ordering his subjects to do whatever he wishes, except if he desires to kill them in which case the law of self-preservation requires them to defy the Magistrate.  And thus Adams has created his argument; man is superior to other animals because he is able to unite himself within society. However, like other animals man has implanted in his soul self-preservation, which calls upon man to defend his life against all threats. How does one preserve his life and at the same time allow himself to exist in society? The law of self-preservation appears to grant man the authority to execute the law of nature. Society limits this ability and grants that authority to an impartial third-party.

Adams description of a state of nature comes closer to the description provided by Rousseau. He describes that in this state man is propogated, food is found on “the banks of clams and oysters”, weapons for war are present, and animal hide become clothing. Yet this society is void of friendship, trade, and human bonding unless instinct calls for it. In essence, man is truly free and independent without any other above him or below him. Adams defines the virtues of the “savage state, courage, hardiness, activity, and strength.” Take these four virtues and compare them to the four classical virtues, “Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance.” Many view the virtue of courage as among the basest virtues, in fact Aristotle in the Ethics describes it almost immediately, indicating that it is the most base of all virtues. The man who is in charge in this society is the one who can kill the best, or run the fastest. This is the basis for tribal leadership, and possibly the roots of how one became king in ancient England, France, or Germany. This basis for determining who is superior will also result in the usage of revenge over justice; the man who perceives himself to be stronger and is beat by another will take it as an insult and attack the other man. Adams even argues that the idea of allowing a third-party to mediate the situation is indication  the deficiencies of the savage state. It is clear that Adams views revenge as the hallmark of a savage state. New Englanders within a few years of this essay will attempt to overthrow the established system and seek revenge for the ills done to them by the British parliament. Adams, in a possible prophetic statement argues that when a horse treads over a gouty toe, our passions are so excited that we feel we must kill the horse. The horse is a symbol of Aristocracy in philosophy, which can lead one to see the prophetic nature of the comment. The horse represents the British Parliament, which does end up stepping on the gouty toe of the colonies, who never really recover from the French and Indian War. Adams finishes this section by saying:

For the great distinction between savage nations and polite ones, lies in this,—that among the former every individual is his own judge and his own executioner; but among the latter all pretensions to judgment and punishment are resigned to tribunals erected by the public; a resignation which savages are not, without infinite difficulty, persuaded to make, as it is of a right and privilege extremely dear and tender to an uncultivated nature.

A stark contrast between the savage state and the polite state is clear,  in the one man is his own executioner while in the other he is not. Rousseau argues in the Social Contract:

The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces in man a very remakable    change, by substituting in his conduct justice for instinct, and by giving his actions the moral quality that they previously lacked. It is only when the voice of duty succeeds physical impulse, and law succeeds appetite, that man, who till then had regarded only himself, sees that he is obliged to act on other principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations.

Rousseau’s sentiments are similar to Adams, in that when man passes into civil society he is expected to give up those habits which were present in him in nature.

This brings up the next point. If society should ever come to the point where we will give up our polite and noble nature, we will become worse than the Goths before becoming Christians. He compares the individual who believes that when offended one should draw his sword to that of the fowl, the bull, and stallion. The image of these three animals are simple, the bird can represent bloodshed, the bull destructive force, and the stallion life and death. It should be noted that he does not use horse, but rather stallion which indicates not the symbol of aristocracy specifically. Instead, the stallion represents the wild, unbridled passions of man and specifically can be seen as a symbol of life and death, which horses are known to symbolize. After initially using fowl, in his ending sentence of this paragraph Adams states, “But are cocks and bulls and horses the proper exemplars for the imitation of men, especially of men of sense, and even of the highest personages in the government!” The cock more specifically than fowl represents the underworld, passion and pride, and thus we arrive at how man is outside of nature: Prideful, passionate, destructive, and wild.

And finally Adams attacks the point that such images of gallantry have been argued from the military. Adams argument begins by stating that such images are not praised by the military, nor have they ever been. Instead, the dregs of society have idealized the Cock, Bull and Stallion as exemplars for man. He argues, “For every gentleman, every man of sense and breeding in the army, has a more delicate and manly way of thinking, and from his heart despises all such little, narrow, sordid notions.” Of these he mentions specifically Divines, Lawyers and Physicians. Divines represent religion, God; Lawyers represent the law; Physicians have a philosophic meaning behind them, in that whenever a Physician appears it represents healing of the body politic. In this instance, though it is much more likely that Adams is speaking that Physicians heal the body,  Adams suggests that they praise themselves above all others such as Divines and Lawyers do. The other set of professions he mentions include: husbandmen, manufacturers, and laborers. They lack the virtue of magnanimity and are instead short-sighted, little minded individuals believing their professions are the best in the world. It is likely then, that soldiers of lower ranks are just as likely to believe themselves superior to any other order. They are, as a result, prone to the, “principles of revenge, rusticity, barbarity, and brutality…” which Adams described earlier as the principles upheld by the savage. However, soldiers who are superior in their senses recognize the authority not only of their superiors but also of the civil society. Once again, in a similar prophetic nature as before, these soldiers recognize the superior nature of English law. Moving away from calling them soldiers, it is evident at this point that Adams is specifically referring to men in general, not just those who serve in the Army. England, being an image of the polite society, is superior to the savage society; some of his fellow New Englanders wish to rebel against English rule, thus stooping to this level. A truly polite and decent man would recognize the doctrine of self-preservation as indignant.

Adams having completed his argument has demonstrated that man who seeks the doctrine of private revenge has no regard for civil society, and therefore is only as good as a tiger or bear. Only within civil society is man able to full perfect his nature, which is where Adams demonstrates the Enlightenment principle that nature is created imperfect. It is man’s responsibility to perfect nature by building upon it, making things, and this is only possible in society. Likewise, man is only able to be fully man within society under the constrains of law and order which is characterized by justice; whereas man outside of society and in total chaos is characterized by the doctrine of self-preservation, or revenge.

Why We Went to War.


 

“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.”

-John Adams

It might be easy to say that the American Revolution began on that night in 1775 when the British regulars came ashore in Boston headed for weapon caches in Lexington and Concord. To say that the shots fired at Lexington and Concord were the cause the of the American Revolution is to completely ignore the events that lead to that night in 1775. Following the French and Indian War (also know as the 7 Years War to Europeans), the British government determined that they would make the Americans pay for the war that they started. While the British government taxed the American colonists before, following the French and Indian War the involvement of the British government grew to something unseen in the American colonies. In 1765 the British Parliament began efforts to pay off the debts from the war through the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act was a means of taxing the American colonies by requiring all commercial and legal documents to bear a legal stamp. This was the first time the British had ever directly taxed the American colonies. The act, which took effect in November of 1765, met with harsh resistance from the people. It was from this first taxation that the Revolution era saying, “No Taxation without Representation” took hold. The colonists were involved in various forms of resistance including boycotting British made products to destroying the prints where the stamps were made. The Sons of Liberty were the radicals who encouraged the more violent forms of protest that lead to the destruction of the prints. In October of that year the Massachusetts legislature spearheaded an effort to hold an inter-colonial meeting for the first time.

The Stamp Act Congress convened in October of 1765 in New York City. Nine of the thirteen colonies attended the Congress including, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina. From this Stamp Act Congress came a letter to King George III, petitions to the British Parliament and the Declaration of Rights and Grievances. Among the points raised in the Declaration of Rights and Grievances are:

1.Only Colonial assemblies have a right to tax the colonies.

2.Trial by Jury was a right, and the use of Admiralty Courts was abusive.

3.Colonists possessed all the rights of Englishmen.

4. Without voting rights, Parliament could not represent the colonists.

Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in March1766 and a year later with they adopted the Townshend Acts, which among other things asserted that Parliament could legislate for the colonies. But by admitting that the British crown in fact had no right to tax the colonies, a right held by the government to do, the Americans were in fact rebelling against British imperial rule over America. The Stamp Act Congress was the first time the colonies came together from all three major regions: New England, Middle, and South. It was in 1765 that the wheels began to turn that caused the colonists to refer to themselves not as Englishmen but as Americans. The American Revolution began the day the colonies met in the Stamp Act Congress.

The American Revolution was not just the war that occurred between 1775 and 1783. The war itself was a product of the Revolution. In the Declaration of Independence the fighting at Lexington and Concord did not even receive direct mention. At the heart of the charges against the King is the fact the British interfered in the running of affairs in North America. Since the establishment of the Royal Colony of Virginia  the colonists had maintained a certain level of self-government without interference from the British. The Stamp Act, a tax, was at the heart of the molestation by the British. The American colonists believed that laws could not be forced upon someone without their consent. Taxation was only permitted if you have the consent of those whom you are taxing. The American Revolution began in October of 1765 when nine of the thirteen colonies formally questioned the authority of the King to rule in America.[5] The American Revolution did in fact begin long before the war itself commenced. It was because of taxation that the people of Boston stored caches of weapons in Lexington and Concord. Sparked byt he Tea Act, it was because of the Boston Tea Part  that caused the British to send troops into Boston. Lexington and Concord were products of the actions taken by the American colonists to prevent illegal taxation by the British. The American Revolution and the War for Independence are two different ideas that encompass each other. The American Revolution was the intellectual developments that occurred beginning in 1765. The War for Independence started off in 1775 in Lexington and Concord and served as the military arm of the Revolution. But as Adams said, the Revolution was already affected in the minds of the people long before the shot heard around the world. The events that took place that night in Lexington and Concord were the climax of a decade’s worth of resistance by the colonies to English taxation.

Footnotes

 [1]It is interesting to note that the Constitution of 1787 required 9 of the 13 colonies to ratify and make it the legal form of government in the United States.

 

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