What Was the Main Purpose of the Mayflower Compact?

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Before arriving in North America, the Pilgrim leaders, including William Bradford and William Brewster, developed the Mayflower Compact to establish a provisional government and prevent civil disorder in their new settlement, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Forty-one adult males on the voyage were required to sign the document, which was a formal pledge to adhere to future laws created by the governing body.

Many of the Mayflower’s passengers weren’t Pilgrims and didn’t share their Separatist beliefs. The Pilgrims secured backing from stockholders by agreeing to include merchants, laborers and artisans who could help build a sustainable settlement, according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation. When the Mayflower traveled off course, the change in destination gave dissenters the opportunity to rebel. William Bradford’s written accounts state that a group of non-Pilgrims disputed the authority of the Virginia Company because the settlement would be established outside of the charter’s geographical jurisdiction.

The Mayflower Compact helped unify the travelers in the new world by giving the common man a political voice. It was modeled after Puritan church contracts, charging the male members with electing a representative leader and making decisions as a body politic, according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation. While the Pilgrims didn’t intend to identify themselves as an independent sovereign territory, this compact is considered one of the earliest forms of self-government, marking a significant shift from the monarchal tradition in Britain.