The Pilgrims did much more than inaugurate a national holiday. They set up the first civil authority in the New World. The full agreement is a single paragraph. It was called The Mayflower Combination (November 11, 1620):
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, & c. 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 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 do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, 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
Historian Bradley J. Birzer describes this effort as follows: “what incredibly and pugnacious audacity these Pilgrims had. Ruling themselves with a simple agreement, a single paragraph, and a deep and abiding faith.
“I wracked my brain trying to remember an example of another, earlier assertion of self-government. Had the Greeks done it or the Jews? No, they had already relied upon a law giver. The Romans asserted something in 509BC, but I’m not sure it had quite the same texture as what the Pilgrims did in 1620.
“I really couldn’t come up with a significant example. For all intents and purposes, the Plymouth Combination is the first real assertion of the right to self-governance in the modern western world and one of the most important in any time or place.”
The Right of Self Governance
The unique elements of cooperative design are all in this founding document.
Words familiar to any cooperator include: mutually, covenant and combine, for better ordering, and acts, for the general Good of the Colony.
The document was an agreement to work together to further everyone’s well-being.
We remember the Pilgrims for many historical reasons. But the legacy that may be most consequential to America’s history is this commitment to self-government.
Credit unions are the embodiment of this ideal in their design for community financial services.
As we give thanks tomorrow, add the credit union model to the Pilgrim’s legacy for America.