Mayflower Compact Declaration of Independence Term Paper

  • Length: 5 pages
  • Subject: Mythology - Religion
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #70332562

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Mayflower Compact/Declaration of Indepence

While remembering Pilgrims during the latter part of the 18th century- even before the Revolution leading to the formation of the country, and the establishing of the "Old Colony Club," the starting of the celebrations of "Forefathers' Day," showed clear signals as to how from the formation of the official nation, nationalistic tendencies had used the past for the purpose of the current self- justification. Among these signals, one may take the example of Plymouth Colony, which is the first Puritan settlement and established by English Separatist Puritans in December 1620. These Pilgrims were seeking religious freedom, combined with a better life, and left England for that purpose. They had first gone to Holland, and then left England from the port of Plymouth in England on September 16th, in 1620 within a ship named the Mayflower. There was a voyage of 65 days for the 102 passengers. The passengers, also called the Pilgrim Fathers had William Brewster ass their leader. They finally reached the land near Provincetown in present-day United States on November 21st, 1620. The colony was established with the signing of an agreement by 41 male passengers who signed the Mayflower compact, also the agreement for establishing "just and equal laws for the general good of the colony" From there, they moved on and finally reached the town of Plymouth in Massachusetts on December 26th, 1620. This agreement that they had reached is among the first of the American documents of self-government with unity for the United States. It was an attempt at establishing the voluntary principles of government and may be seen to have evolved from the Word of God, with the consent of the citizens. (Hall, and Slater, p.15)

This Mayflower Compact expanded into the areas of the civil and political realm, which was also the basis of the churches established by these Puritans. These Puritans had many groups of whom the Pilgrims were one. The Puritans had been unhappy with the concept of a rigidly based and narrowly defined contractual church structure where God was a distant entity, who could be approached only through an ecclesiastical hierarchy, whereby the ordinary people had much less worth and dignity in the eyes of God when compared to the ministers and bishops, etc. who were much closer to God, and therefore had more worth and dignity. The Puritans were educated and belonged to the middle class sections of society. Their writings also reflected their character and the views of the reading public, and they were literate and had good knowledge of religion. The common themes in their early writing were idealism, of both the religious and political type and pragmatism, which showed their practicality and sense of purpose. When the French revolution occurred, the use of these puritanical concepts as an ideology to explain the tradition, background and the basis of the country evolved into the concept of the Nation. This is because the general linkages between the United States and France had started way back in the early parts of the 19th century.

The federal theology of the puritans, which viewed the entire society as the outgrowth of the basic biblical agreements between God and his people formed the ideas for the first political principles, which were systematically proclaimed in America. Winthrop said that the good commonwealth should commit itself to "federal liberty," which he defined as the freedom to listen to the laws of this agreement between God and man. The Puritans understood all relationships among people to be a part of the covenant with God. They formed congregations which were all based on the agreements among each other, and these lasted only as long as the agreements remained intact between them, and this period could be infinite, but not necessarily so. This principle also guided their civil government, which was based on the civil agreement among the residents or potential residents. This situation was the basis for the start of most towns in the new colony. The Mayflower Compact or the Plymouth Combination formed the first of such agreements. The other towns in the region were formed based on similar agreement, and this is true for all towns in New England, and many other towns in other colonies as well as the settlements of Rhode Island and Connecticut. The covenanting of the towns together formed them all.

Thomas Hooker, the Mathers, Winthrop and his colleagues, and all other Puritan divines have mentioned in their writings that the Puritans of New England had a basic sense of a fundamental conservatism, along with a total radicalism, and this heady mixture formed the basis for the later day citizens for their lives. This mixture certainly was directly related to their religious beliefs, which saw humans as bound to God through predestinations and their covenants, but left them free to live according to their own wishes as per the constitution. (Winthrop, p.82) God provided the salvation for them. To have this constitution accepted by the society required a revolution, but the revolution was necessary for the restoration of harmony to the world. The puritans had come to the new world in search for a new society, but remained still aware of the human weaknesses. This combination always did not hold together. The radicals like Roger Williams and Ann Dickinson broke away from the group almost immediately. Among them, Williams later established the covenantal commonwealth in Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; and these were grounded in the covenant in all civil and political matters so that they could guarantee openness in the religious matters. The Puritans had however felt that this was impossible if salvation was to be achieved.

But the Puritans also had conservative streaks in their religious concepts, and this aspect brought about the witch trials at Salem, which embodied the Puritan concept, that devilry in human souls, got out of hand. Among the greater numbers, the combinations held and different segments held each other at bay, and some even kept moving out. One of the groups, led by Thomas Hooker moved out from Massachusetts to what is now Connecticut and developed the more egalitarian Puritan commonwealth. They however still remained faithful to their conservative and radical dimensions. The social expression of the Puritan federalism came in the concept of "federal liberty" mentioned by John Winthrop in his Address to the General Court in 1645. Winthrop and other Puritans held the concept of federal liberty in contrast with natural liberty. But many others who had come to America were more in search of natural liberty. This distinction between natural and federal liberty has been running through the development of America. The covenants lived up to the concept of federal liberty, but are challenged continuously by people who see liberty as the freedom of doing whatever a person wishes except when it directly interferes with the liberty of another person.

Caldwell, p.15)

The revolution reconstituted the colonies as independent civil societies and this change required a new round of covenanting. The colonies followed the established patterns in their own secular form of declarations of rights of constitutions. These documents of the revolutionary era also show the influence of the "new political science," which was then a very prominent concept. They also showed the increases in the secular concepts, which had started after 1690 with the Puritan declension in Europe and America. This had also led to changes in words, and the word "covenant" had almost totally been replaced by the words "compact" and "constitution." During this period, the name of the Plymouth Combination changed to the Mayflower Compact. The growing population of the country gradually eclipsed the original Christian and communitarian solidarity associated with the idea of covenant, which is both kinship and consent. The new generations and rising manufacturing all led to this. The old Puritan communities tended towards more of legal and contractual agreements with which the Americans of today associate the entire concept of Puritans. In 1630, a handshake may have been enough to seal a business relationship, but by 1730, this was replaced by written contracts with fine print, and enforceable by secular courts.

As a result, there was a movement in parallel with this "new political science" which separated the secular and religious affairs. The formal language of the covenant was gradually shifted to private sector congregationalism, and the secular language of constitutionalism replaced it in public sector matters. This means that the emphasis moved from the community to the individual, and this finally was seen in the gradual decline of churches in all areas except the most religious states in the period just before the revolutionary era. There was however no total break and the tensions between these two aspects have lasted throughout the existence of America. These differences are also seen in the Declaration of Independence which is the agreement issued just before the Constitution of 1787.

Actually, the constitution was supposed to translate the statements of the Declaration into working institutions. Jefferson and the Congress are certainly…

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