October 30th was the birthday of John Adams.
Many have asked why we founded a school that carries John Adams’ name. In Congress on July 2nd, 1776, John Adams persuaded many of the representatives who were wavering on the Declaration of Independence to vote “yes.” Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration of Independence said of Adams’ speech that day, “[His power of thought and expression…moved us from our seats” and ever after Jefferson would refer to Adams as the “Colossus of Independence.” (David McCullough. John Adams. Simon & Schuster, 2001, p.125)
After having set in motion the Revolution for a free government Adams later wrote this in 1798:
“We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Where or from whom did these thoughts originate? November provides the perfect month—one of pilgrims, harvest festivals, and Thanksgiving—to explore these ideas and ideals.
By the late 1500s the Bible was being printed in English. The Church of England had been formed by Henry the VIII and required every citizen to attend church. England became a hotbed of religious contention. Out of that contention and need for religious freedom came one group known as the Separatists. They moved to Scrooby, England in 1606 to find refuge. Yet within the year many Separatists were being taken captive for punishment or to prison for their beliefs. By 1607 many decided to leave for Leiden Holland to find religious freedom. But they found, within a decade, that although Holland was religiously tolerant, the culture of Leiden was not commodious to their religious beliefs. By 1620 many had saved some money and they made yet another journey—this one to America, an exodus from Europe with a grant of land and money from the Virginia Company and King James in hand.
For their journey they purchased two ships, The Mayflower and The Speedwell. It is sobering to contemplate the faith exhibited to move yet again for a place they had never seen. Shortly after departing England The Speedwell took on water after two stops and was judged unseaworthy. This meant 102 passengers now crowding onto one boat for the journey which set out again, this time in September of 1620.
A Miraculous Journey
The journey was arduous with weather that required them to often stay below deck. William Bradford noted that “the wind was so strong, and the sea so high that they could not carry a knot of sail…” (Michelle Gallagher. Forefathers Monument Guidebook. Proclamation House, Inc., 2021, p.53). When a large storm cracked the main sail, they Providentially discovered someone had brought with them a giant iron screw to repair it. When another passenger went overboard during a storm, he miraculously found tethering from a rope attached to one of the sails and was pulled in by a crew member.
After discovering they had been blown off course (they were headed for Virginia) they attempted to sail south. Yet weather prevented them from doing so and they ultimately found Plymouth Harbor, where they landed in December after 66 grueling days on the sea. Further attrition from the elements took their toll with about half of the passengers perishing that first winter. It is no accident and is certainly Providential that they landed in Massachusetts where they could build a place and a unique culture that was founded on neither socialism nor human slavery as was Jamestown.
The National Monument to the Forefathers reflects William Bradford’s thoughts:
“Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation. Let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.”
The Mayflower Compact
Before exiting the ship on that cold December day prior to disembarkation they all made a solemn covenant with God and each other known as the Mayflower Compact. It is short yet profound:
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, etc.:
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith, and the honor 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 politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, 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 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.
Why Did They Come to America?
Why did they come?
God, Faith, King, and Country.
They too wanted a more perfect union (better ordering), safety (preservation), and ends (religious freedom). By covenant or promise with one another a body politic to give themselves their own just and equal laws, ordinances (an ordinance being an established rite, ceremony, or law, see Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language 1828) acts, constitutions, and offices. They were setting up their own community government for the general good of the colony and promised obedience to and submission to God and each other. This was a religious, safety and community act.
What is it that bridles the passions and avarice of men? It is their moral virtue or strength of character to make and keep their promises to God and their fellow man.
In the Spring of 1621, when the Mayflower sailed back to England not a single Pilgrim opted to return with it. “From the filthy jails of London, to the sweat-filled factories in Leiden, to the bitterly cold shores of Cape Cod—at each pivotal moment of the Pilgrim story, these extraordinary men and women were determined to live—and even die, if the Lord allowed it—according to the convictions of their faith.” (Gallagher. Forefathers Monument Guidebook. p.54)