Just War, Rebellion, and the American Revolution: John Keown and Modern Critiques on Whether the War of Independence was Just.
Part 17: Context: The English Experience Leading Up To The American Revolution, The Mayflower Compact (1620) and the Colonists
By Leonard O. Goenaga
In addition to the English experience, it is also worth noting that since America’s earliest colonial endeavors, self-governance and consent of the governed were foundational. Fleeing the religious sectarianism and persecution of England and landing in New England, the Pilgrims sought to establish some form of self-government. In 1620 they authored and voted on the Mayflower Compact:
[I]n the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, 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.1
These New England Puritans established a pattern for subsequent colonies in the U.S. Preceding Locke they also provided an actual occurrence of a civil society being birthed from a social contract.2 Being a combination of the Scriptural convictions treated prior, and an English political heritage, they foreshadowed much of the emphasis placed by the Colonists on consent,3 on self-rule,4 con the common good,5 and on the rule of law.6 Colonists were entitled to the rights of all Englishmen as constituted in the Petition of Right and the Bill of Rights. These rights, in combination with the former English contextual experiences against tyranny, and in combination with the emphasis of the early settlers evidenced in the Mayflower Compact, combined to set a context that illuminates where the American Colonists and their grievances were coming from. Having surveyed Scripture and Church tradition regarding a Just Rebellion, and having placed the Colonists within their preceding English historical context, what is left is to examine the actual behavior of the Colonists and whether their actions were justified according to Just Rebellion principles.
1 See Appendix 1 for the text of the Mayflower Compact (1620).
2 Interestingly, the Puritans instead use the word “Covenant” to describe their compact between each other and God. The word “covenant” carries more theological weight than the secular “contract”, and it is worth exploring whether their concept of contractual government was derived primarily through theology or English philosophy.
3 Mayflower Compact (1620), “in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic”.
4 Ibid. “combine ourselves together into a civil body politic . . . for the general good of the colony”
5 Ibid. “for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid”
6 Ibid. “by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, 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.”
The Moral Liberal Research Writer, Leonard O. Goenaga, is a Baptist Associate Pastor (assigned to the Youth) at Glory of God Christian Fellowship, Raleigh, North Carolina; a Mentor (Computer Lab/Technology) at the Wake Forest Boys & Girls Club; a husband (to Katrina); and rugby coach. He holds a B.A. in Political Science (with a specific concentration in Political Theory, Social Contract, and Constitutionalism), a second B.A. in Religious Studies (with a concentration in World Religions and Early Christianity), a Master of Divinity in Christian Ethics, and an A.A. in Entrepreneurship. He has begun Ph.D with a concentration likely centered on an analysis of Locke’s Social Contract, H.L.A. Hart’s Legal System, American Constitutionalism, and Baptist Ecclesiology of Covenant. Visit his website at Leonardooh.com