Another Perspective on the Mayflower Compact and the Pilgrims

A previous post provided a positive view of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Compact and the Pilgrims who wrote and signed it. A vastly different perspective on these topics has been provided by Joshua Zeitz, an American historian and contributing editor of Politico.[1]

He starts with a positive note. “The Pilgrims wrote and  “signed the Mayflower Compact, which arguably planted the first democratic seeds in New World. The same Pilgrims . . . transported a strain of Christian millennialism to America that influenced the development of political culture throughout the United States.”

However, Zeitz says their Colony of Plymouth “was a small, struggling outpost that never achieved the prosperity or influence of its close cousin, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, settled 10 years later by non-separatist Puritans. . . . Puritanism—both in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay—fell into a state of decline within a generation of each colony’s founding. Ultimately, the political and religious culture the Pilgrims and Puritans built had little to do with the nation we became—it shaped neither the republican revolution against Parliament and Crown in the 18th century nor America’s evolution into a diverse and boisterous democracy in the 19th century.”

“From the start, the Puritan project faced steep challenges. A large number of Mayflower passengers were ‘strangers’—servants or craftsmen who were necessary to the settlement but did not share in the separatists’ religious faith. . . . Local conditions were also trying. . . . Plymouth remained a small and relatively poorer society of fishermen and small farmers.”

Moreover, “by the 1660s large numbers of residents of both colonies were not baptized church members. . . . Whereas upward of 80 percent of Plymouth and Massachusetts settlers belonged to churches in the 1640s, by the 1670s that portion had fallen to as low as 30 percent.” In other words, “[f]ar from laying the foundation of American political and religious culture, the Puritan settlers, separatists and non-separatists alike, built an inward, particular religious community that frayed within three generations of their arrival in the New World.”

Zeitz  concludes by saying that there has been little public note of “this year’s 400th anniversary of the [Mayflower Compact and the] Plymouth landing, in contrast to the [current] spirited debate over [the introduction of slavery in the Virginia colony in] 1619,[2][ and that this contrast] reflects the right priorities. We still grapple with the legacy of slavery in ways both profound and worrying, and the impulse to claim the mantle of ‘true Americans’ hasn’t left our politics. But we can be thankful that the Pilgrim’s world of ‘invisible saints’ and unregenerate sinners, of closed communities and neo-theocracy, has little to do with the America we know, nor has it for a very long time.”

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[1] Zeitz, How America Outgrew the Pilgrims, Politico (Nov. 25, 2020).

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The 1619 Project Commemorates the Arrival of Slavery in the U.S. (Oct. 20, 2019); Prominent Historians and New York Times Officials’ Comments About the 1619 Project (Aug. 12, 2020); Senator Cotton Continues Criticism of the 1619 Project, (Aug. 10, 2020); Historian Wilentz’ Response to Senator Tom Cotton on the Issue of Slavery (Aug. 11, 2020); Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, (Aug. 3, 2020).

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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