Famous Gems of Prose
The Mayflower's Civil Compact
by Henry Wilson
From a banquet address at the celebration of the 250th anniversary
of the landing of the Pilgrims, at Plymouth, Dec. 21, 1870.
While I agree in the sentiment that it was piety, pure and simple faith in God and in his Son, that brought those brave men across the waves, I cannot forget-we should all gratefully remember on this day-that they laid in the cabin of the "Mayflower" the foundations of civil liberty in America.
Bancroft, in his history, tells us that in the cabin of the "Mayflower" humanity recovered its rights; that government was then founded by them on the basis of equal law for the general good. That compact proclaimed that, for the glory of God, the advancement of the Christian faith, the honor of country, the general good, there should be just and equal laws. These grand doctrines of the Pilgrims, then embodied in a compact of government, have been inspirations and examples in all the succeeding generations. From the day that compact was signed to the time in which we live, there has been a struggle here in the western world to establish and maintain just and equal laws for the general good.
The example of the Pilgrims has inspired the faith and strengthened the arms of those who have battled in legislative halls and on bloody fields. It inspired the colonies in their struggle for more than a century against the aggressive policy of England. It inspired the burning eloquence of James Otis, and the pen of the organizer of the American revolution, that grand old puritan, Samuel Adams. It inspired the majestic eloquence of Daniel Webster, when he stood here half a century ago and denounced the slave trade as the crime of his century. It inspired John Quincy Adams in his grand struggle in the hall of congress, to maintain the sacred right of petition; and the martyred Lovejoy to vindicate, on the banks of the Mississippi, the freedom of the press. It inspired William Lloyd Garrison when he proclaimed immediate emancipation and his firm resolve to be heard by the American people. It inspired Abraham Lincoln in his immortal proclamation of emancipation, which smote the fetters from the limbs of three and a half millions of men.
It inspired brave men among the living and the dead, in minorities and in majorities, in the long struggle which incorporated into the constitution the thirteenth amendment, that made it impossible that a slave should tread the soil of the republic; the fourteenth amendment, that defined the rights of American citizenship, and the fifteenth amendment, that gave every male citizen the right to vote, and practically the right to be voted for. This grand compact of government on board the "Mayflower" adopted before the men who made it had trod the soil of the continent, will inspire their descendants and brave men in the advancing future to hope on and struggle on to make equal and just laws for the general good, the vital, animating, and living spirit of American institutions, so long as the memory of the Pilgrims shall live in the western world.
Click here to read: The Mayflower Compact
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