Almost 400 years ago the Mayflower sailed into the harbor near what is today Cape Cod. It was a difficult voyage for the crew and passengers. On board were the group known as Pilgrims—English citizens seeking refuge from religious persecution, looking for a new start in a new land where they could freely worship God according to their faith and conscience.
Dissension and bickering threatened to disrupt the venture. The ship landed north of its intended destination. Some on board said, "None had power to command them." Mutiny and revolt were spreading. Before setting foot on shore the group determined to bind themselves together by mutual agreement. The idea of a "compact," later to be called the Mayflower Compact, took shape.
This is a little known document of American history. The Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution came later and are enshrined in memory. The earlier compact between men and women was voluntarily agreed. They determined to submit themselves to work together for the common good, with nothing but their shared allegiance to a higher authority, in this case Kings James I and God. On Nov. 11 they agreed to cooperate "for the general good of the Colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience."
It was an effort at self-government based on common consent, the basis for any form of government. In America this Compact, at least the will and intent behind it, led to the democracy that has endured for more than two hundred years. On this small ship off the coast of North America the idea of self-government first took root. Anchored in free will and choice it sets the baseline for true liberty.
Pilgrims and the Mayflower are associated with Thanksgiving. The first Pilgrim celebration came later, after a hard first year on the land. This first American Thanksgiving is special because of this compact made among free men and women submitting to one another in the name of God. They were exercising personal freedom, a fundamental right given by God to each of us. True gratitude begins when we acknowledge God as not only the giver of every good and perfect gift but also the right to choose our response to His grace.
May we always choose for life and never forget to thank God for this precious gift.