Thank You Pilgrims, for Democracy

Jenny Erikson
Jenny Erikson

This is the second of a three-part series on Thankfulness for the Pilgrimage to America. Read the first part: Thank You Pilgrims, for Religious Freedom.

The Pilgrims longed for religious freedom, and they knew they were never going to get it in England. The little group of Separatists (Pilgrims) decided to move to Holland, which did not have a state-run church and was generally tolerant of differing religious ideologies.

For 12 years, the Pilgrims lived, worked, and worshipped as they pleased in Amsterdam, but life became increasingly difficult. It was hard for the foreigners to find work as anything other than textile workers or sailors, and the peaceful political climate was becoming tense. The 12-year truce between the Netherlands and Spain was coming to an end, and as the Pilgrims never planned to stay in Holland permanently, they decided to move on.


In the fall of 1620, 41 Pilgrims (along with 61 crew members and other passengers) boarded the Mayflower and set sail to begin a new life in the New World.

Upon arrival in America, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact, which became the governing document of the Plymouth Colony for over 70 years. This document was unlike any other in history, as a group of men came together of their own free will and agreed to be governed by themselves according to the will of the majority.

Throughout the Separatists’ journey from England to Holland to America, they came to understand the need for democracy in order to protect religious freedom. They had lived under a monarch and had seen first hand the damage that could be wrought when the ruling class dictated laws to the commoners.

Years later, after the American Revolution, when our founding fathers were writing our Constitution, they looked to the Mayflower Compact. John Adams described the agreement as “the only instance in human history of that positive, original social compact.”

The Pilgrims were the pioneers of American democracy, establishing for the first time in history a self-governed society in which all men were created equal, and subject to equal justice under the law.

For that, I am incredibly thankful.


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