Before disembarking upon the wintry shores of the promised land, the Leyden Pilgrims combined themselves into a civil body politic. As much as they would have preferred to live by the invisible church, they were realists enough to know that men make government. The Pilgrims thus became the first Englishmen in America to establish government by a rudimentary convention form, unconnected with any powers conferred by a public or private authority abroad.1
Although the Mayflower Compact was intended to serve as a temporary expedient to establish law and order until charter privileges could be received, the Pilgrims considered their act to be the foundation of a permanent civil society. They were not troubled that their combining together to form a government could only be a legal fiction under English law.
It may well be argued that the Pilgrims had no clear understanding of political incorporation and that they sought merely to establish a primitive, communitarian society, bound together by like-minded persons and a long-standing intimate friendship.2 Mourt's Relation calls the Mayflower Compact "an association and agreement," and Bradford simply refers to a "combination