"In ye name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc.
Haveing undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith, and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof to enacte lawes, ordinances, acts constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet & convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witnes wherof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye 11th. of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James, of England, France, & Ireland ye eighteenth, and of Scotland, ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620."
The text is taken from Gov. Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation, as the original document no longer exists. Nathaniel Morton, Bradford's nephew and Plymouth Colony's first published historian, gives the following names as signers of the document:
Morton follows quite closely the order of names given in Bradford's list, which in itself offers a fair argument for his having copied from Bradford and not from the original sheet on which the compact had been written and signed. A few variations may be laid to errors in copying or in printing. As to names in the Bradford list which are not to be found in that of Morton, they represent servants who may have been under age or closely bound by articles of indenture, and members of families whose head had already signed.
A popular conception that originated in the early nineteenth century was that the agreement signed on board the Mayflower in 1620, (which received its modern name of the "Mayflower Compact" in 17931, was the beginning of constitutional government in this country. In 1802, John Quincy Adams had invoked contemporary ideas on social order to invest the 1620 agreement with an importance it did not have for its originators: "This is perhaps the only instance in human history of that positive, original [Rousseaunian] social compact which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government. Here was a unanimous and personal assent by all the [male] individuals of the community to the association, by which they become a nation." It was common thereafter to see the Compact not as a temporary measure but as a proto-Constitution, prefiguring the one that had been adopted by the new nation. Actually, as William C.P. Breckinridge (in his oration at Plymouth in 1889) so aptly noted, this document was "..not a constitution, nor yet a charter; nor yet in a true sense a social compact," but rather "...the complete demonstration that they were planting the seeds of the old truths, not attempting to make some new and unknown harvest from untried seed". The agreement was not a revolutionary departure from English precedent but a pragmatic application of it.
Samuel Elliot Morison let Governor Bradford himself speak for the meaning of the document, in his very perceptive The Pilgrim Fathers, Their Significance in History: "...the unpleasant tribe of professional historians refuses to find in the Compact anything more than what Bradford says it was, 'a combination made by them before they came ashore...occasioned partly by the discontented and mutinous speeches that some of the strangers amongst them had let fall...That when they came a shore they would use their owne libertie; for none had power to command them, the patente they had being for Virginia, and not for Newengland, which belonged to an other Government, with which the Virginia Company had nothing to doe.'"2 The agreement signed on board the Mayflower on November 11, 1620, made but a small impact on history, but as the "Mayflower Compact", it became a vital element in the Pilgrim Story and served as the symbol of all of the democratic institutions that would evolve in the United States in the future.
1 Matthews, Albert. The Term Pilgrim Fathers ..., p.295
2 Morison, Samuel Elliot.The Pilgrim Fathers, Their Significance in History 1937, p.9