Trouble was brewing aboard the good ship Mayflower. She had been blown off course by storms, so instead of arriving at the northern part of Virginia Colony (modern day New York) they found themselves off Cape Cod. Attempts to sail south almost met with disaster due to the notorious shoals off the Cape. Winter was coming on, and worse than that, the crew was running out of beer (Stop laughing… It’s true. You’d opt for beer too if you knew what could be swimming around in stored water back then.) It was decided to make the best of where they were. Being outside the jurisdiction of their charter, some of the men onboard, especially the "Strangers" (those not of the Pilgrims’ faith) figured this meant that each man could do as he pleases, and "… would use their own liberty, for none had power to command them" according to William Bradford. In other words, they were for anarchy, and what social theorists call a "state of nature." After some intense lobbying, Bradford, John Carver and other leaders – perhaps assisted by some strong-arming from Myles Standish – managed to convince most of the men to sign what has come down to us as the Mayflower Compact, wherein they agreed to:

Covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and in Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by virtue hereof do enact, constitute and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, 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.

Thus was born the tradition of the New England town meeting, which survives to this day. When Norman Rockwell painted his famous Freedom of Speech, he chose as his subject a man dressed in work clothes, dissenting from a proposition at a town meeting, while his neighbors respectfully hear him out. (Having participated in several of these, I can tell you that, while they weren’t always respectful, they sure as hell could be entertaining.)

Notice the limitations on strict majority rule. 14th Amendment jurisprudence has given us a good grip on equal protection, but isn’t the word "just" so elastic as to be meaningless? Not to them. Remember our stop at the Magna Carta. By this time it, and the principles in it,were starting to become venerated as secular scripture. Englishmen were beginning to consider themselves as having rights beyond the reach of any king or government.

After 150 years or so of enjoying this self-government, due to the "Tea Party" and other disruptions, Boston Harbor was closed, the town occupied again by Redcoats, and the Massachusetts charter was revoked, placing the colony under direct crown rule. The local militia in the towns around Boston made ready. It used to be that every school kid knew what happened next:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

(Yeah, yeah, I know… they didn’t have any flags that day and the first shots were exchanged in Lexington a few hours earlier… Sit down.)

Decades later and old militia captain was being interviewed, and was asked why he turned out with his musket on that long ago April morning. Was it the stamp act? The tea tax? Some grand enlightenment view of the rights of man? No. "Young man," he said, "what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: We had always governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean that we should."

0 0 votes
Article Rating