Recent theories and discoveries have turned traditional thought upside down as to which European adventurer actually discovered and settled in North America first.
We know that the Spanish and the French, as well as the English, were in the Americas long before the United States was formed but, recently, someone looked at some artwork that was carved into a European church long before any of the previously mentioned explorers had embarked on their expeditions and, realized, that the artwork depicted designs of agriculture that was distinctly American. How could someone draw a plant from another country, a hundred years before anyone ever adventured to that place, was the natural question.
Some recent archaeological discoveries in Canada indicate that Leif Ericson made it to America long before any of the credited explorers arrived.
Then, there’s the age old question of where the Native Americans came from? Most say that they walked across the Bearing Straight during an ice-age and settled in the continent. Some say that the world was once one solid body of land and that the people of each place just kind of stayed where they were when the continents divided [over the course of hundreds of thousands of years].
These are fun concepts to marvel at, but outside the realm of this particular article, which is designed to deal with the founding of the United States government and, more specifically, the signing of the Mayflower Compact.
Many believe that the religious zealots aboard the Mayflower were the first English settlers of the Americas when they arrived in 1620.
Back up a few years! John Cabot is the first recorded English settler to establish himself in the Americas in 1497 [123 years before the Mayflower arrived].
In 1607, the Virginia Company of London sent a group of farmers to establish a permanent English colony in the Americas [Jamestown] under full charter of the king, to make laws for the good and welfare of the settlement.
These settlers set up a representative assembly (a legislature composed of individuals to represent the population). This was used as a precedence for settlers who would follow. This settlement was riddled with disaster from the start. 67 of the 105 men who landed in Jamestown died the first year. In 1609, eight hundred more set sail and only 60 of those survived. Between 1607 and 1623, 4,800 of the 6,000 settlers were dead.
The passengers of the Mayflower, religious zealots, who were determined to break away from the Church of England [who were being executed for heresy], arrived in 1620 and established the first colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Before disembarking the ship, the men got together and drew up the Mayflower Compact. Only 41 of the 44 men on-board voted for it, the others being of the mind that they had broken free of England and therefore were under no authority. They knew that without a royal charter, they needed some sort of governing body to maintain order.
The Mayflower Compact was not a constitution, but a political statement of the men, to agree to form a governing body and submit to its authority, until such a time that they could receive a legitimate charter from the king. It established a rule of law, based on the consent of the people.
The Mayflower Compact reads:
“We….covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick….and by virtue hearof to enacte, constitute and frame such just and equal laws….as shall be thought necessary for the general good of the colonie.”
(American Government and Politics Today, Schmidt, Shelly and Bardes, (C) 2009, 2008 Wadsworth Cengage Learning, pp36, inset–borrowed from the Granger Collection).
Other documents in American History would use the Mayflower Compact as a prototype.