This Wednesday, Nov. 11, in addition to honoring our veterans, America celebrated a once-in-a lifetime event: the quadricentennial of the Mayflower Compact signed in 1620.
First, a refresher why we should celebrate the Mayflower Compact. Four hundred years ago this week, religious freedom-seeking Pilgrims arrived in the New World near Cape Cod, Mass., far from their Virginia destination. This and other misfortunes caused many on board to consider their English charter with the Virginia Company null and void.
In order to prevent a mutiny and quickly establish a set of rules for everyone to live by — even before settlement was established on land — Pilgrim leaders signed a new agreement aboard the Mayflower on Nov. 11, 1620. The Pilgrim leaders drew upon the ancient tradition of social contracts or covenants between parties to guide them.
This particular agreement was unique because it was the first written example of self-government in the New World. Additionally, it was a contract between individuals and not a monarchy. It also ensured a working social structure where none existed. Finally, it worked so well for the new colony that it remained in effect until 1691. The agreement eventually became known as the Mayflower Compact.
Historians and our founders consider the Mayflower Compact the forerunner to our Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. In 1802, Sen. John Quincy Adams wrote, “That [the Mayflower Compact] is perhaps the only instance in human history of that positive, original social compact, which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government. Here was unanimous and personal assent, by all the individuals of the community, to the association by which they became a nation.”
For all Americans who love our Constitution and especially for veterans this Veterans Day, John Quincy Adams gives us ample reason to celebrate the Mayflower Compact signed 400 years earlier on that fateful Nov. 11, 1620. Sir Winston Churchill, two-time prime minister of the United Kingdom and one of only eight to receive honorary U.S. citizenship wisely said, “A nation that forgets its past has no future.”
As we dutifully honor our military veterans, let us celebrate four centuries of the Mayflower Compact’s impact, “that positive, original social compact…as the only legitimate source of government,” that led directly to the founding of our great nation.
Especially during challenging times, Americans need to celebrate their beautiful past, as Churchill so wisely reminds us. By doing so, we will continue to be this world’s “shining city on a hill”… and a timeless model of self government for future Pilgrims seeking other new worlds.
Mark Dillon is a retired major general in the U.S. Air Force who lives in Manassas.