In 1620 the ship Mayflower departed from England for the New World. Many of those on board were religious dissenters, known then as Separatists and later as Pilgrims or Puritans, who preferred to separate altogether from the Church of England rather than try to change the church as other dissenters attempted to do. The passengers also included emigrants who were not members of the Separatist congregation. The combined group of Separatists and "strangers," as they were called by the Separatists, had obtained a charter from the Virginia Company of London, giving them permission to settle within the boundaries of the colony of Virginia.
The Mayflower, however, did not reach Virginia. Instead, it arrived off the coast of what is now Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which was not within the boundaries of any established colonial government. The strangers asserted that they would not be bound by any laws, but WILLIAM BRADFORD, the Separatists' leader, insisted that all male passengers sign an agreement to abide by the laws that the colonial leaders would establish at the colony they called Plymouth.
On November 21, 1620, forty-one adult male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact. The compact served as a device to preserve order and establish rules for self-government. The signers agreed to combine themselves into a "civil Body Politick" that would enact and obey "just and equal laws" that were made for the "general good of the colony." This commitment to justice and equality would be reiterated in many later documents, including the U.S. Constitution.
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