tv Mayflower Compact Religious Liberty CSPAN December 23, 2020 12:37pm-1:36pm EST
so much, and good night, everybody. you're watching american history tv. every weekend on c-span3, explore our nation's past. american history tv on c-span3, created by america's cable television companies and today were brought to you by these television companies who provide american history tv to viewers as a public service. up next the heritage foundation hosts a discussion about the mayflower compact, the document signed by the mayflower passengers shortly before their arrival in america 400 years ago. scholars talk about its role as a political government and later for arguments of religious liberty. the heritage foundation provided this video. >> hello and welcome to the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the mayflower compact. i'm wilfred mcclay.
it wasn't the first most important colony in the world t wasn -- it wasn't even the second most important colony in the world. there is a strong argument to be made that on the 11th day, a battered ship called the mayflower made safe harbor at a place near what is now today provincetown, massachusetts, that that day should be one of the greatest moments in our national history comparable to the fourth of july, independence day, and september 17th, constitution day. but let me qualify that statement a little bit. we think of the pilgrims as our forebearers and we're right to do so, but it's important to remember that they and the other puritans who were settling new
england at the time did not imagine that they were establishing the united states of america. nothing could have been further from their minds. they were doing something entirely different. they were about the difference of establishing a place where they could enjoy a pure and uncorrupted church. the earliest settlers of virginia had been motivated primarily by material considerations. they wanted what the spaniards wanted from their colonies -- gold or wealth, material wealth. but the settlers of new england were driven almost entirely by religious seal. most of them were puritans, men and women of a calvanist religious bend who believed they had not gone far enough of their
corrupt aspects and, hence, their decision to emigrate to a new world for a new beginning. the plymouth colonists in particular were not only calvinists but also separatists, meaning they had separated themselves from the church of england as a hopelessly corruptive body and they preferred to worship in independent congregational, meaning self-governing churches. after 11 years of living in increasingly exile, they were permitted to establish an english colony where they could practice their faith freely. that was their dream. so across the ocean they came aboard the mayflower and made landfall at what is today cape cod, a place outside the virginia company's jurisdiction. and, indeed, outside the
jurisdiction of any known government. that was a problem. they were clear and present dangers in these circumstances which were unexpected. and the group's leaders knew that. they were especially worried that the colony might not be able to hold together as a law-abiding entity in the absence of some larger controlling authority. about half of those on board were not members of the separatist group, they were known as strangers. that was the pilgrims' term for them. non-separating passengers who had various motives, mostly non-religious motives for making the trip, but whose skills and labor were going to be essential to the success of the colony. some among the strangers had indicated, once it was known where the landing would be
taking place, that because the colony was going to be planted outside the embit of the royal charter, they might feel free to go wherever they wanted. as one of them said, use their own liberty for none had power to command them. this was a frightening prospect to the leaders. what were they going to do about it? well, what they did in response was they drafted and signed on november 11 a short document they would come to call the plymouth combination. we call it the plymouth compact, although that name did not come to be until the 1700s. they called themselves a civic
body politic, closed quote, and establish a any and all leaders that would be established thereby. this established the principle of self-rule that would be the heartbeat of the american public and its free institutions. over two centuries before the philosopher jacque cousteau expressed the idea, these pilgrim settlers were living in. they had grasped that freedom means not lawlessness but living in accordance with the law that you dictate to yourself. so as inauspicious as this event was at the time, taking place so far away from the known world, the centers of power and influence and population and civilization, it proved to be a crucial milestone in the development of self-governing political institutions.
the signatories were following the same pattern of self-government that new englanders would use in organizing their churches. justice in the congregational churches, ordinary believers came together to create self-governing churches. so with the mayflower compact, a group of ordinary people came together to create their own government. and in doing so, asserted their right to do so. what made these developments even more astonishing is they amounted to a real world dr dramatization of their case. they had done it before others had gotten around to forming the idea, not to mention doing it in
a century and a half before the declaration of independence, which proclaimed that governments derooiived their pos from the just government. i quote, it is the right of the people to institute its new government laying its foundation on such principles and laying its power on such form that to them will seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness. but now, having made this amazing connection, let me qualify it in some ways. important ways. first and most importantly, this agreement aboard the mayflower was not something being fashioned in a pre-political, pre-cultural state of nature such as the social contract theorists would later pause it. all we have to do is look closely at the document to see that very clearly. the document begins with the words "in the name of god."
it proceeds to identify the signatories as, quote, loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord king james. it identifies their voyage as having been undertaken, quote, for the glory of god in advancement of the christian faith and the honor of our king and country. it identifies the signatories as endorsing the agreement, quote, in the presence of god and one another. not exactly the state of nature. and it proposes the goal of framing, quote, just and equal laws that promote the general good of the colony. in other words, this agreement was borrowing at every turn from the religious, political, legal, cultural, moral practices of contemporary england. it wasn't starting fresh, not at
all. it was building on deep foundations. and even when the declaration of independence appeared on the scene, it drew not only on the theories of john locke, which it most assuredly did, but also on that same deep reservoir of experience and the sum total of 150 subsequent years of american colonial experience of self-government. self-government in massachusetts, self-government in virginia, self-government in pennsylvania, in all the original colonies. and now let me make one other point. we should not forget in the telling of this story the sheer daring and courage of the pilgrims, the courage that they showed in undertaking this astonishing journey, the astonishing depth of their faith, their commitment to their
faith. when they landed at cape cod, they might as well, for all practical purposes, have been landing on the surface of the moon. surely there were those among them -- and i don't think just a few -- who must have quaked a bit silently and inwardly even at their joy of making landfall and wondered for a moment and maybe more than a moment if it had not been all an act of madness that had brought them there, away from everything they had known, everything that was familiar into the terrors and uncertainties of a strange and very forbidding land. some of what they must have been feeling was very well expressed by william bradford, their leader, when they arrived at cape cod. and let me quote from him. being now past the vast ocean in a sea of troubles before them in
expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, nor ends to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to to seek for succor. besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild booeeas and wild men? the multitude of them they knew not. for whichever way they turned their eyes, save upward to heaven, they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object. for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance for the weather-beaten face and thick its represented to the wild and savage hew.
bradford continued. they looked behind them. there was a massive ocean that they had passed and was a main bar or gulf to separate them from all civil parts of the world. what could now sustain them but the spirit of god and his grace? what, indeed, but the religious faith that they possessed so strongly could have sustained them just as it had propelled them across the seas. and yet, we should not forget that the mayflower compact did not establish a theocracy, a rule by religion. yes, its language was ringed about by christian imagery and assumptions, and those images and assumptions are of central importance to the whole story. yes, the pilgrims' religious faith was the thing that drove them across the seas in search of a better and more faithful way of life.
but the mayflower compact -- in the mayflower compact, the pilgrims wisely chose a government based on civil agreement, not on compulsory divine or biblical authority or edict. such an arrangement was designed to embrace and include the strangers. those who were not members of the church but whose contribution to the life of the colony was understood to be essential to its success. call it pragmatic, call it inclusive, whatever we call it, it's central to our understanding of what happened with the mayflower compact. so much would be learned in the nearly two centuries of british north american colonial life, and much of what was learned came out of this same kind of interplay between high hopes and
hard, pragmatic realities. above all else, what was being learned in the english colonies was the habit of self-rule. developed in the lives of free colonists who were too distant from their colonial masters to be governorable from afar. it served as a model for all that was to come including the american revolution. a free people coming tgd under god and by their own initiative establishing the institutions by which they would rule themselves. may we continue to look to that model and that example. thank you. >> thank you so much, dr. mcclay. that was incredible. and as always, we think you are the best qualified to have given us that spectacular presentation. you know, america was the first
nation in history founded on a specific creed, a fundamental belief in liberty and equality for every human soul. it is a creed in natural law and natural rights. its political expression is in limited government, popular sovereignty, the separation of powers, and a vibrant civil society, animated by private associations and faith communities of every kind. these ideas are central to america's identity, and over time have entered into america's distinct political, social, and economic culture as a nation. dr. jeffrey morrison is here with us today to discuss the mayflower compact and religious liberty in the united states. he will reaffirm the importance of american institutions, particularly religious freedom
and the freedom of speech, as well as civil society. we believe it's necessary to respond to the emerging narratives that aim to deconstruct american institutions and the workings of civil society. dr. jeffrey morrison is professor of american studies at christopher newport university in newport news, virginia, and director of academics at the federal government james madison foundation in alexandria, virginia. dr. morrison has held faculty positions from princeton university to the u.s. air force academy. he has published as an author or editor five books on american political culture, including the political philosophy of george washington. ladies, let's give dr. jeffrey morrison a warm welcome.
>> thank you for that introduction. and in the next 12 minutes, i'm going to talk about the mayflower compact and its relationship to religious liberty. not mere toleration, but religious liberty. and that is an american innovation. it begins with the people we call the pilgrims in 1620. it will then continue in the subsequent decades of the 17th century, and then in the 18th century especially in virginia, thomas jefferson and james madison, george washington, and others will continue to perfect that innovation of religious liberty. it's the pilgrims, the people we call the pilgrims, who bin it in 1620. we call them pilgrims because that's what they called themselves. one of their leaders, william bradford, wrote a book called "of plymouth plantation," which he describes their life and motives and so forth. and much of what we know of them comes from bradford's book. and in that book, he describes why they went where they went, why they did what they did, and
why they took ship eventually in the mayflower and came to the new world. incidentally, it was not the first time that those pilgrims had left england. we call them pilgrims, we also call them separatists. they were a subset of the puritans. that group of protestant christians who had becomes convinced that the church of england, the anglican church, was susceptible to corruption and was -- had become overly, in their view, overly catholic in its liturgy and faith and practice. so they hoped to purify it, to return the anglican church to a more pristine form of christianity, one that was more closely modeled on the new testament and primitive christianity. now these pilgrims had concluded that noble as that work may have been, that it was impossible to do. that the anglican church was corrupted, and they could no longer stay. they had to leave. so the first place they went was
to holland to the bus-linked commercial city of laden where they were tolerated and not persecuted as is commonly believed. but they did become concerned that their children and had they stayed their grandchildren and subsequent generations would have been corrupted or at least influenced by two secular and commercial environments there, that they were losing their we'll have and first love. they made astici decision, we'l back to england, apply for a charter to the new world, and we'll hire a ship to take us there. they did apply for a charter from the crown which was denied. and so in an effort to make their venture legal, they went to the virginia company. that corporation which outfit and backed the expedition headed
by captain newport, the namesake of my university and settled on jamestown island and planted the first permanent british colony in north america. so there's that legal tie between -- between the pilgrims and the settlers at jamestown. one could say that there is commonality of purpose, as well. if you look at a charter that is eventually given to the settlers in massachusetts, the first charter of 1629, and you look at the first charter of virginia, for instance, there are commercial purposes mentioned there, but there are religious purposes, as well. in both virginia and massachusetts. and so one can see these two parallel missions at work in virginia, as well as in new england. but bradford describes the reason that they went, and this is backed up by later preachers
and public figures. and the reason they went was not to create a tolerant regime or a -- a plantation of religious liberty, they went to rule. they went to create what they consider to be godly commonwealths. and just several years later i'm going to read a line or two from a sermon of 1629 by the reverend samuel willard in which he said, quote, i perceive they are mistaken in the design of our first planters whose business was not toleration but were professed enemies of it. their business was to settle, and as much as in them lay, secure religion to posterity according to that way which they believed was of god. and you can verify this by looking at the first massachusetts charter of 1629 in which, quote, the incitement of the natives to the knowledge and obedience of the christian faith as the principal end of this plantation. so principally religion, but not
necessarily toleration, much less religious liberty which is a more robust concept than mere toleration. religion in that instance is considered a natural right. we would say a human right, a god-given right perhaps. so why did they draw up this document, these pilgrims on the mayflower? they set sail in september of 1620, crossed the ocean. during that voyage, the main mast cracked. they thought they might have to return back to england. they were able to repair it. continued on. but in the course of that journey, they were blown off course. they were intending to go, as we see from the text of the compact, to the northern parts of virginia. and that's where they had that patent for that land. and so it becomes evident to
them when they sight land, when they drop anchor off of what's now cape cod, what is now cape cod, that they are not -- they're not where they intended to go, and that the legal document they have is no longer valid. it's moot. and the pilgrims of whom there were roughly 35, are only part of the human cargo of the mayflower. there were roughly 70 no non-pilgrim passengers who had likewise bought their passage on that ship, a retrofitted wine ship was the mayflower. and they are leaving, they are fleeing england, they're fleeing economic hardship, they're fleeing in some cases creditors and others, they're fleeing the law. so they are kind of a rough bunch of customers in some ways. and the pilgrims over here then talking, once everyone realizes we're not where we intended to go, and we have no legal
controlling authority here. they overhear some of the rougher customers saying -- threatening to live without law once they -- once they go ashore. and so on the fly, under the pressure of circumstances, they create the first written social contract which i'm aware in the history of the western world. and certainly it's the first written social contract in the colonies, the british north american colonies. and that is a remarkable thing. and it should not be -- it should not be undervalued. 1620, this is a full generation, nearly two generations before thomas hobbs, other political philosophers like john locke, and on the continent, jean jacques rousset will be write being the contract, theorizing about individuals in a so-called state of nature, agreeing with one another to give up some of their rights in order to form a
civil society. here we see it happening in real time under the pressure of events, and it is a remarkable performance that they give there in the galley of the mayflower. it's a very compact document. and so perhaps it will be worth looking at a few lines of it and trying to parse them out. it begins, 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 great britain, france, and ireland, king defender of the faith, et cetera. the word et cetera is in there. they are invoking god's name. they could have said what would have been perhaps a more familiar formulation in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit, amen, but they don't do that because this is a mixed group of persons whose signatures they are very keen to get on this document, on this social contract.
it's sometimes referred to, the mayflower compact, as a constitution, but it is -- it isn't a constitution. it is at best a proto-constitution that creates a political community consciously of equals, of individuals, perhaps of families, who are willing to abide by -- may make a promise to one another, we're going to abide by the laws that we ourselves will write in the future so long as those laws are just and meet, they say. we also note here that they confess themselves to be the loyal subjects of their dread sovereign king james, the same king james who lent his name to the version of the bible that is still read today, the squalled authorized version, authorized by him. a group of puritans had been agitating him for a cleaner version of the bible, one that didn't have commentaries and footnotes and so forth. and so he sort of somebodily gave in and -- begrudgingly gave
in and offered this new translation for them. the puritans bible, you might say. so they are -- they are the loyal subjects of king james. they're not leaving england, they don't intend by leaving england to leave behind their subjecthood or to renounce the authority of the king over them. but in a way, it is a declaration of religious independence, isn't it? it is a statement of religious liberty because in leaving, they have left behind his church, the church of england, of which he is the head. they are saying your religion we no longer accept, we'll not be governed by it. but we don't reject your authority. you are dread sovereign lord, and we are coming in essence for god and country. for the glory of god and advancement of the christian faith, and the honor of our king and country. we're taking this voyage to plant, as they say, the first colony in the northern parts of
virginia. but here is -- here is the salient language in this, the operative language in it as we say. in the presence of god and one another, we covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for better ordering and preservation of furtherance of the ends aforesaid. it's kind of a lovely image, isn't it? it's organic, an intimate image, a civil body politic. a body is a unity. when one part of your body hurts, your whole body hurts. when one part is feeling good, the whole body feels good. so this is a corporate endeavor upon which they are engaged, and they are very keen to get and do get the signatures of every adult male head of household who signs as an equal. one signature isn't more weighty than another signature. they are individuals before
signing this. but after its signing, they are now a community, and that i think is one of the great legacies, and their actions in leaving england are a statement of religious independence. but by craft dhg civil body politic, they create the space for religious liberty and laws in the future. >> thank you so much, dr. morrison. what an incredible presentation. you know, again, we're going to march back to november 11th, 1620, when the english settlers arrived in the new world seeking religious freedom. let's remember when the pilgrims landed near cape cod, massachusetts, they quickly realized they needed something more. a document that would make possible a self-governing community. the result, as we have been talking about all day, was the mayflower compact.
a social contract and covenant for a new political society. this remarkable document is an early example of democratic self-rule, and it became a model for our american founders. but oftentimes overlooked is how the christian beliefs of these pilgrims, especially their commitment to freedom of conscience, laid the groundwork for later debates about religious freedom in american colonies. so i'd like you to join us now for our panel discussion about the origins of religious liberty in america and its enduring importance to our democracy. our very own emily gall, director of the richard and helen duval center for religion and civil society at the heritage foundation, and an
attorney who has defended religious freedom for the last 14 years, will moderate our panel. she head worked on behalf of victims of religious freedom violations in east asia, the middle east, europe, and south asia at the state department's office of international religious freedom and beckett law. emily is a member of the supreme court bar and the bar associations of both california and the district of columbia. ladies and gentlemen, please welcome emily gall. >> well, thank you very much to dr. morrison for that excellent lecture. and now i'd like to introduce dr. eric patterson who will join us for this discussion. dr. patterson serves as the executive vice president of the religious freedom institute. he is a scholar at large and past dean of the robertson school of government at regent university and a research fellow at georgetown university's berkeley center for religion, peace, and world affairs.
dr. patterson's interests in the intersection of religion, ethics, and foreign policy is informed by two stints at the u.s. department of state's bureau of military affairs and work throughout africa and central asia. in south asia. he has served in the government for more than 20 years, both as an officer and commander in the air national guard, and as a white house fellow working for the director of the u.s. office of personnel management. he's the author or editor of over a dozen books on religion and foreign policy and ethics. he's published extensively on religious freedom, democracy, and democratization. he received the ph.d. in political science from the university of california at santa barbara, and a master's degree in international politics from the university of wales. delighted to introduce dr. patterson and dr. morrison to join us for this conversation. i'd like to pick up from where dr. morrison left off in his lecture where he stated that the
mayflower compact was a declaration of religious independence and that by crafting a civil body politic the community created the space for religious freedom in law in the future. dr. morrison, would you like to elaborate on that statement? >> yes, i'd be happy to. thank you. the mayflower compact is not a constitution. occasionally you might hear it referred to as -- [ inaudible ] organic metaphor for a political community. and it extracts a promise from the signatoriesignatories. they promise that they're going to abide by those laws, that they will make themselves, whether they be religious laws, whether they be civil laws, but
there aren't any laws laid down. there aren't any -- there aren't any institutions of government created by that compact. and so that was my point in saying that it creates a space in the future for religious liberty. and they're active leaving england, physically separating, leaving the church. england which is headed by the king is indeed an act of independence, a kind of declaration of religious independen independence. what that's i meant by that. >> i fully agree that this is an action of religious independence. it goes back to covenant theology in the reformation in the 1500s. as early as the mid 1500s, there are reformers who say we have to separate ourselves from government-led ecclessiastical associations. the predecessors of america's
pilgrims or separatists set up independent congregations, first in england and then to the norther lands. the pilgrims we're talking about wrote the mayflower compact are part of that separatist movement. and what they do is they make a commitment among themselves and before god to set up a religious community where they hold one another accountable and they covenant together as a religious body. that's the basis for the mayflower compact, and it's root in that type of theological commitment. >> thank you. in your lecture, dr. morrison, you brought up the point of equality. equality between the passengers on the mayflower who were the pilgrims and then those who were not actually from the pilgrim community and how they were treated with a remarkable level of equality. could you both elaborate on that further, dr. morrison, would you like to go first? >> yes, i'd be happy to.
thank you. it is a remarkable thing that when you look through the signatories to that and every adult male signed either for himself or for his head of household. you see by their names some of them you'll see esquire, esq afterwards, and one of them who actually was my tenth grade grandfather, william brewster, had been to cambridge, for example. so there are various classes we might say represented among the passengers, and i -- i mention in my remarks that many of the so-called strangers, the non-pilgrims, were kind of rough customers fleeing the law or fleeing creditors, so forth. they are all treated as equals in the civil body politic. there is i guess subtle acknowledgment that they might not be members of the religious community or choose not to come under the laws that would be written in the future.
and i think there's an implication that if not, then they can themselves separate from that community. but it's -- it is a remarkable thing, i think. in 1620 when most of the world was a rigid class -- had rigid class systems that the esquires and the common folk other maybe even the law-breakers among them, the criminals fleeing england, all have equal status civilly in that body politic that they're creating. >> i agree that the level of equality here is very important. and this comes from ideas from the reformation. these people took very seriously the reformation idea of the equality or the priesthood of all believers which is the principle of equality. the equality of citizens. and this is in other parts of english history, as well, if you go back to the magna carta. they took it very seriously. these are people seeking ordered liberty so they can make -- that
they can orient their lives based on their faith commitments. and importantly, they do not impose that on their fellow men. the mayflower compact is rooted in their theological commitments, but it's also a prudential document so there's not anational pa naanarchy when. they do this in a way to not impose a faith tradition, not imposing their beliefs on the others. they're recognizing a principle of citizenship equality with their fellow passengers. >> and i would like to just add one thing quickly, if i may. this is not -- plymouth is not philadelphia, it's not pennsylvania, not the radical egalitarianism of william penn who will come just a few years later and form his own colony, his own proprietary colony of pennsylvania. but still, there is, as dr. patterson's mentioned, that
civil equality. we don't want to make too much of it, but it is a remarkable thing, i believe, in an age when, again, there's this fairly rigid class structure throughout -- certainly throughout europe from which those folks come. >> yes, and you also make the point in your lecture that religious freedom, not mere toleration, is an american innovation. do you want to elaborate on that and how the mayflower compact led to that? >> i'll elaborate on it for certain. i think that there's a very rich legacy of the compact in american constitutionalism though there isn't explicit religious liberty laid down in it. a difference between religious liberty and religious toleration is a difference between the kind of rights that we believe that people have. religious liberty means that you have a natural human right to freely exercise, first to freely
believe or not believe, and to freely exercise your faith so long as it doesn't harm anyone else. toleration is different. and that's what was -- that's what was around the globe pretty much the most liberal policy. the toleration means that the government will tolerate you so long as it sees fit. and if you are not -- it often implies as it did in england, for example, an established church, a state church. the state churches dr. patterson alluded to all over western europe and elsewhere. if there's a state church, then you will almost certainly pay some kind of a penalty. you'll suffer some kind of civil disability if you are not part of that national church or state church. give an example -- if you were jewish in england, no matter how bright you were, you couldn't go to the two great universities, state-sponsored universities, oxford and cambridge. you had to either convert and
profess to be or perhaps sincerely be an anglican, or you had to go to some dissenting academy. that's what toleration means. the government will tolerate you. it is more like a civil right, what we would call a civil right. almost like a driver's license or something that the government issues, and the government can take back. religious liberty is that natural human right that no government can take away from you. and i do think that the compact and then documents that follow in its train do create a space for that, but they certainly don't -- the compact doesn't explicitly guarantee that and natural right firms, we might think of the declaration of independence, for example, as an inher inheritor of the space for freedom that the mayflower compact begins to sketch out. >> excellent. dr. patterson, do you want to comment on the uniqueness of
religious liberty as an american innovation? >> yes. and just to make two points that relate to the mayflower compact in its era. and they both have to do with the statements early in the compact that are some of the language of the day that this is happening in the name of god, to advance the gospel. and these are important points from a religious liberty standpoint. the first one is this -- the other type of colonies that were being placed in the new world, whether they were portuguese or especially spanish, imposed christianity by the edge of the sword. and what's so different in the english colonies but especially here and in southern virginia is that there's not the imposition of christianity by the sword. the pilgrims in particular and people who come after them like roger williams attempt to share the gospel with the native americans, but they do not do it
at the point. and second, whether it's in plymouth plantation or pennsylvania, virginia, or elsewhere, most of these religious communities that are set up in the colonial era have a right of exit. people come into the community, they may have to follow the covenant, the religious covenant of the community, but they can freely leave. no one forces them to stay there. they could go back to england. they could go someplace else. and that's a pretty big principle in this era where toleration, as dr. morrison said, was considered a very liberal idea. the right to exit is a huge difference, it's a huge innovation that really is rooted in what these pilgrims did. >> thank you. now both of you have written about religious pluralism, as well, and commented on it. can you describe how the mayflower compact and the creation of the civil body
politic is informative to those interested in religious pluralism today? >> perhaps i'll start on that. the pilgrims were separatists from the church of england, as dr. morrison said. amazingly, in 1620, nthey write in document, a social compact, but it's a social compact decades before hobbs, decades before locke, decades before rousset. it's rooted in a set of theological commitments that predate the social compact theory that would teach history, law, and political cents. and that's because they had this notion rooted in covenant theology that -- that individual believers in a community could make decisions about the faith. and that there should not be a level of interference in the
contentious religious commitments that someone makes or that a community makes. that religious communities -- this becomes the congregational churches and similarly the presbyterian churches, a high level of autonomous decisionmaking at the local community level, rooted in these types of theological commitments. >> dr. morrison, do you want to comment on the question about religious pluralism? >> yes. certainly today we live in a very religiously plural society. we live in a nation state. the plymouth plantation is not a nation state. it's not a state. it's not even formally a colony of england. they don't have a charter when they leave. like william penn will bring with him, for example, to found his proprietary colony. all they as well a patent. that's a legal document which they get from the virginia company, and it just gives them title to certain lands.
and so it is -- they're on their own hook, if you will. and so they are forced, as dr. patterson mentioned, they're sort of forced to be liberal and egalitarian through the pressure of circumstances. that's one thing that i think makes this document so remarkable. it was done on the fly. it was written i think literally in the galley of the mayflower before they set foot perhaps at plymouth rock. and so -- but is there religious plurality among them? there is. there's a great deal of religious plurality in pennsylvania, as well. so i think we can learn something from them about how to get along with our -- holding our deepest differences religiously. and i believe to this day, polls indicate that americans, upwards 90% of us, still believe in some
kind of supreme being or higher power. so among the industrialized nations of the world, america is -- is still uniquely religious. and can we learn something from this experiment in plymouth? i think we can. i think it has a legacy of constitutionalism that is passed down in the subsequent documents, even hundreds of years later. but again, i think it's a remarkable production for its time and for its circumstances. >> could you also comment on how signing of the mayflower compact, this creation of this social contract, influenced that community itself, its behaviors, its conduct, its treatment of the members of the community and others? >> i'm going to turn that to dr. patterson first. >> i think that this sets the groundwork for a level of cooperation that just has to happen. this is only about 100 people,
they're facing winter off of cape cod, they've just had this long ship's voyage. they've missed the harvest and things. and about half of them die that winter. and so i have to recognize that the mayflower compact is rooted in a set of world view assumptions, and at the same time, it's a desperate commitment we have to work together or we're not going to survive this. but it lays the groundwork for the type of colony that plymouth is over the next half century, and that is a place where there's a lot of individual equality. it's a place where there is not the types of religious restrictions that we see in the massachusetts baycol me to. this place where roger williams goes when he needs to have a place to get away from the massachusetts baycol me to. we know that there's efforts to share the gospel with the american indians there, but that they're noncoercive. it really does set the
groundwork for a model that is cooperative among citizens but not coercive. >> i think that's very well said. and i'll only add very briefly that once again we have to keep in mind that the plymouth colony is different from the massachusetts baycol me to. and different leadership, they have a slightly different ethos, they have different ends and goals. and it's boston -- what becomes the city of boston and the massachusetts baycol me to that is sort of powerhouse in what becomes the state of -- the colony of massachusetts and then later the state of massachusetts. so that is led by john winthrop. a different sort of man than elder brewster, a different sort of man than william bradford. he's a lawyer, for one thing. he has a rather checkered career
in massachusetts bay, being elected governor and then deposed and elected again as his literal fortunes go up and down in england. so massachusetts bay is the -- and the city of boston, they are the kind of powerhouse and literally tens of thousands of people come in waves from old england to new england, but they tend to settle there. the plymouth colony is a smaller enterprise, it is first. and i think that document, the compact, is very dispositive for things that come later. but we should remember that. and when we think -- we speak of the piquad war, things like that, there are different communities engaging the native americans and engaging themselves and the strangers among them in slightly different ways. >> well in our closing section, would you like to comment on anything else that we can learn as americans today from the
mayflower compact that perhaps has been overlooked? >> well, if i may go first, i'll try to be very brief. i've alluded to this constitutional legacy of the mayflower compact. and i don't want to make too much of it, but when we look even at the structure of this document, with a preamble, if you will, not exactly we the people, but, you know, we the undersigned. and then a statement of purposes of their journey, and then the creation of that civil body politic. then a kind of pledge at the end, a sort of pledge of mutuality and then the signatories. that should look familiar to americans, even today, right. that looks like the declaration of independence in a sense. that looks like the federal constitution in a sense. and it might be a bit of a stretch to go from we the undersigned to we the people,
but sections of a document, again, with a self-identification, with a preamble, a statement of purposes, then an allusion to the political community. and then a pledge of mutuality and signatoriesignatories, that our dna i'd like to say. i think that very first chromosome or whatever we want to call it is planted there at plymouth. and like physical dna in families, you know, traits are inherited, aren't they? sometimes they lay dormant and resurface. sometimes a grandchild is remarkable similar to a grandparent in features and things. so that would be my parting remark about the mayflower compact. i think it's that sort of a thing. it's -- it is our political dna, and even though they were just a very small kind of self-funded and self-generated community,
religious and political community, that document has far-reaching implications, vast implications for a future in american constitutional history. >> emily, i agree with that point that dr. morrison and -- we have to remember as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the mayflower compact that the people who wrote the declaration of independence were about as far removed historically from the mayflower compact as you and i are from the u.s. civil war. it's -- a century and a half. and so this seed early on, one that then the framers of the declaration of independence and the constitution, that they cite as important in the genealogy of ideas in the west, it really can't be overstated, and it's important for americans -- by the way, great americans like abraham lincoln and martin luther king jr., ronald reagan, have done this. they look back in history, and
they've recognized how important the mayflower compact and these decisions that early colonists made in setting the united states on a course that over time becomes expanded notions of rights, liberty, citizenship, and the free exercise of religion. and think about how different, again, 1620 with the mayflower compact was than the setting up of spanish colonies or portuguese colonies with high levels of slavery. think about how different the experience was in -- in plymouth, but also shortly in rhode island, in the dutch colonies that become new york and new jersey. at times in massachusetts, virginia. think about how different the 1620s, '30s, and '40s are from what's going on in europe at the same time. whether it's the english civil war, which is about to commence, or the 30 years war. and there's a religious component to all of that violence. what a difference that the mayflower compact can have these
individuals who out of their theological commitments decide to set up a civil body politic and to freely express their religion without coercion. it's a very, very important seed in u.s. and in world history. >> well, thank you both very much for helping us to understand the origins of the mayflower compact and its continuing influence on our body politic today. as americans continue to discuss what is happening in our country, it is important for us to look at historical documents like the mayflower compact and to see the legacy of equality, the legacy of covenant that we have with one another as we look forward. thank you both very much. >> thank you. >> week nights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's
available every weekend on c-span3. tonight we continue to mark the mayflower's 400th anniversary in a conversation with robert stone, director of the virtual mayflower project, who shows us how they used virtual reality to re-create the ship and the plymouth england harbor from which it set sail. watch tonight, beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern, and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3. you're watching american history tv. every weekend on c-span3, explore our nation's past. american history tv on c-span3, created by america's cable television companies. today we're brought to you by these television companies who provide american history tv to viewers as a public service.
at an event hosted by the heritage foundation, participants examine the mayflower compact and other new laws the settlers agreed upon when they arrived in 1620. the panelists discuss the basis for these laws and their relationship to america's founding documents. the heritage foundation provided the video for this event. >> and today's event, we and our distinguished guests will talk about the mayflower compact and the foundations of the rule of law. in 1651, the philosopher thomas hobbs offered the theory of the social contract. he saw it as a political community in which all of its members submitted themselves to an absolute sovereign in exchange for their security. a generation before hobbs, however, the pilgrims at cape cod had drafted their own sia
IN COLLECTIONSCSPAN3 Television Archive Television Archive News Search Service
Uploaded by TV Archive on