The story of the Mayflower Compact begins with a group of religious dissenters in England in the early 17th century who believed it necessary to separate from the Church of England. Persecuted in England, these so-called “Separatists” fled to Holland. Concerned by economic woes and the threat of losing their English identity by living in Holland, the “Separatists” planned with investors and began their move to form a colony “in the northern parts of Virginia” in 1620. Forty-one male Pilgrims (as the “Separatists” later came to be called) signed the Mayflower Compact on November 1, 1620, before they ever set foot upon land while their ship, the Mayflower
, was anchored in Provincetown Harbor at the tip of Cape Cod. They spent several weeks considering Cape Cod for their settlement before they sailed across Cape Cod Bay and settled at Plymouth. They were, of course, not “in the northern parts of Virginia,” and thus, they had no legal right to settle in this New England area.
In the Mayflower Compact the men stated that they “covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick for our better ordering and preservation.” They pledged to institute “just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices… as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” While not a governing document, its significance is that it committed the men to the creation of a government based on the consent of the governed. In this way, the Mayflower Compact served as a precedent for the later creation of a government for the United States.