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Americanism        < Previous        Next >


The Mayflower Compact: Make Your Own


Today's Snack: A "compact" is a formal agreement between people that shows unity and firmness. So let's make a snack that's like that. Spread peanut butter and jelly on saltine crackers, and smoosh them together like little sandwiches. They'll stick together . . . just like the Pilgrims on the Mayflower did.




One piece of plain white paper

Ballpoint pen or permanent ink marker

Cookie sheet with a rim, or large, flat dish that the paper can fit inside

Pitcher of tea

Old newspaper

Lighter or matches (and adult supervision!)



When the Pilgrims landed on what is now America in November 1620, before they even set foot on the ground, they hammered out the following agreement, or contract, called the Mayflower Compact.


It was the first legal document for what would become the nation of the United States of America. It formed the basis for the U.S. Constitution, enacted more than 150 years later.


The Mayflower Compact established:


        Local government


        Majority rule


        Cooperation for the common good


The original was lost, but here is a replica which has been authenticated as accurate:



Here it what it said:


"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 England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour 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 of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, 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 eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."


Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, 41 adult men signed this compact. Among those you might have heard of were William Bradford (eventually elected governor of Plymouth Colony and reelected 30 times!), Capt. Myles Standish, and John Alden.


All but four of them were "Separatists." They were called that because they wanted to "separate" from England and Europe. They were Christians fleeing religious persecution in England and the rest of Europe, attempting to avoid the harsh dictates of one form of Christianity which they didn't feel aligned with their understanding of what their faiths should be like. Over there, religious authority was combined with governmental authority, and it didn't give people very much freedom.


This is where our nation's firm foundation in "the separation of church and state" comes from.


The Separatist Christians had first fled to Holland, where each church practiced self-government. So the Mayflower Compact reflected that pattern.


The other people on the Mayflower who didn't sign the Compact, but would still live under its rules, were merchants, craftsmen, skilled workers, a few servants, and quite a few children - about 1/3 of the passengers. It was important for them to have the Mayflower Compact in force since all of a sudden, they didn't have the structure of English laws to guide their conduct.


English law, and through it, American law, dates back more than 400 years before the Mayflower Compact, to the Magna Carta. That important document established the principle of "the rule of law," which the Mayflower Compact continued.


However, the Mayflower compact was the first legal document in the world which proclaimed self-government by the consent of the people governed. You can see its themes reflected in the U.S. Constitution, drafted 150 years later.


The wording was thought to have been supplied by William Brewster, a Mayflower passenger who had a university education.


Now - let's have some fun!


Using the principles of the Mayflower Compact, draft your OWN compact with members of your after-school group, your friends, your classmates or your family. You can put it in flowery language, like the real Compact, or use your own slang and words you like. You know: "So that our group will be sweet and not lame, we have set these rules."


Let's say you're making a Family Compact. Maybe your rules will be that you get to set your own bedtime on Saturday nights . . . that you will play outside for at least a half-hour a day for fresh air . . . that you will make your bed every day and do the dishes after every dinner . . . that you will get to have a friend over to play once a week . . . and that you can watch TV or play video games ONLY after your homework is done.


Or whatever the rules of the household should be - but don't go crazy and grant yourself all kinds of privileges. These have to be rules that your parents can sign, too.


If you're making rules for your after-school group of friends, talk together and come up with rules that everybody can sign, including your adult leader.


Write out your rules on a piece of plain white paper in permanent ink, that won't run. You sign them and have everyone else in your family or group sign them, too.


When you're sure the ink is dry, crumple and crinkle the paper up into a ball. Do it several times. There should be lines and wrinkles on the paper.


Flatten it out as best you can.


Now lay the paper in a cookie sheet or large pan so that it lays flat.


Pour the tea over it, to cover. Let it stand for a few minutes.


You are literally "staining" the paper to make it look old!


Carefully lift the wet paper up by the top two corners, and lay it flat on a section of old newspaper. Let dry.


When it's dry, with adult supervision, use a lighter or matches to burn just the edges of the paper, just a little bit, and quickly blow out any flames. Brush away any ashes. You want a jagged edge that looks brownish, adding to the antique or ancient look of the document.


Remember to include these important American principles in your rules: local government, majority rule, and cooperation.


Keep it simple, and may your compact last as long as our country's first one has!


By Susan Darst Williams Americanism 02 2008




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