“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, etc. Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor 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 politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof 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. In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.”
The Mayflower Compact
They had come to worship freely in 1620. Persecuted in the court of King James I of England but with his Bible in their hand, men, women and children, some literate and skilled in the affairs of the Church but many illiterate and unskilled, their names recorded on their boat ― The Mayflower’s ― manifest.
The Mayflower Compact was allegiance to the King of England but not to his Church. If Henry VIII broke from Rome, the Puritans of the Mayflower broke with the Church of Henry VIII. The Compact was a commitment to self-governance in direct connection to god, a form of theocratic democracy tethered politically to England. It was Judaic values but with a belief in Jesus as the Son of God and in Christ as the sovereign lord.
This is the reason for the founding of the United States in 1776, 156 years after the Mayflower, the best of American scholarship on history says, as if what happens today, in 2011, can determine the affairs of the country 156 years from now in the year 2167. Albeit discomforting, myths must be unraveled to see reality for what it is to do the right thing at the right time.
Indeed they had come to worship freely. And they could. So could many of the other colonists who had come after the Mayflower in droves to the land that was virgin to the British, all chartered by the English monarchy to do the work of god in the New World because those who could till the land, they believed, owned it for they worked to clear it.
If they could all pray as they pleased, both Protestant and Catholic (in Maryland), bypassing the Church of Henry VIII, from Massachusetts to South Carolina and Georgia, untrammeled by the pressures of social class that were common in England, and could form their own governments though in allegiance to the British crown, why break away from the motherland? Why form a different country? After all they were ethnically the same people unlike in the other colonies of the empire.
The serenity of the vast New World, away from the conflicts of Europe, once they had learned how to till it with its boundless riches, was far too beguiling to go back to the urban conflicts of civilization an ocean away. Yet, the common language and heritage that had bound them all together was a convenience both for the land they had left and the land they occupied to expand the British Empire with no financial strings attached through taxation.
Benjamin Franklin’s diplomacy in the politics of the European enlightenment had wrought the revolution in France, beheading the monarchy the same year George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States, the 13 separate colonies which had to become united to achieve independence, while saving England its empire. Neither was King George III as incompetent as he is made out to be nor were the Founding Fathers as naive to abandon their heritage. 1776 was political and economic autonomy in kinship to found and expand Anglo-America from coast to coast, displacing other European powers – France and Russia – on the continent.
Thomas Hooker (1635) who had founded Hartford, Connecticut, and Roger Williams who founded Providence, Rhode Island in 1636 (also the year of the founding of Harvard College in Massachusetts), were the first to succeed in abstracting the values of the Compact for the purposes of the state. Hooker’s was a reinterpretation of the Compact as rule by the consent of the people (“We the People”), while Williams had made the case for the separation of Church and State, the centerpiece of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Many years later, in 1869, the state of Wyoming which achieved statehood in 1890, had given voting rights to women and permitted women to hold office with men on an equal basis.
Connecticut, Rhode Island and Wyoming encapsulate the values of the United States, which cannot all be better captured than in the memorable phrase “All Men Are Created Equal” by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Instilling these values in the society at large is the role of the American elites, by familial lineage (the Mayflower Society and others who trace their lineage to the American Revolution) and most importantly, through non-exclusive meritocratic education (for example, the curricula and teaching expectations of Andover, the Ivy League and MIT standardized across the secondary school and university system with government oversight).
The tragedy of the Mayflower is the Puritan exclusivity, no different from that of the chosenness of the Jewish people since Abraham. The egalitarian values of the United States are, however, its bequest.
An experiment in a new idea of government founded in secular faith (or faith as a personal matter), away from the aristocratic and theocratic establishments of Europe, the truth of the United States depends on how it abandons its own empire-American exceptionalism-two hundred years after Thomas Jefferson began it.
In the name of God, Amen.