Remembering Pilgrims on 400th anniversary
Julia Ernst, Grand Forks
In November of 1620, the passengers aboard the Mayflower penned a revolutionary agreement now known as the Mayflower Compact. This band of refugees had fled their homeland and immigrated to America, bringing with them very little except their determination to make a better life for themselves and their children.
Some of these immigrants, who referred to themselves as the “Saints,” left England to escape religious discrimination. They initially went to Holland, where they benefitted from greater religious tolerance. However, regional political turmoil began threatening their religious sanctuary, and the Saints did not want their children to assimilate into Dutch culture, so they decided to move again. Others, whom the Saints called the “Strangers,” joined their venture to settle in America for different reasons, such as escaping economic hardships, evading criminal convictions, or seeking adventure and fortune. Knowing the Strangers’ skills would be necessary to help start a colony in the wilderness, the Saints tolerated the presence of these outsiders.
Blown off-course from its original destination, the Mayflower arrived in a region of the New World outside the settlers’ official charter from the king. Several of the Strangers–including my ancestor John Billington–mutinously claimed they were no longer legally obligated to remain within the colony and would strike out on their own once the ship landed. Realizing the community was unlikely to survive unless everyone banded together, the Saints and Strangers eventually negotiated an agreement to form a “civil body politic.”
Radical for its time, the Mayflower Compact established several important principles eventually ensconced in the U.S. Constitution, including equality, justice, and the consent of the governed. Since the colony included adherents of Separatism as well as the Church of England, the Mayflower Compact refrained from elevating one over the other. Similarly, the U.S. Constitution does not preference one religion over others, instead protecting people of all beliefs.
During this 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth and this season of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the values of equality, justice, civic participation, consent of the governed, and religious diversity within the United States and protected by our Constitution.