The Mayflower Compact: APUSH Topics to Study for Test Day

mayflower compact APUSH

The Mayflower replica in Plymouth, MA. Image credit: solepsizm /

The Mayflower Compact was a document establishing the government of Plymouth Colony. To be successful on Mayflower Compact APUSH questions, make sure to study the significance of the compact as an early framework of American government, as well as the circumstances necessitating its drafting.

What is the Mayflower Compact?

The Mayflower Compact was signed by the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1620. The document established a government for the new Plymouth Colony. When the Pilgrims landed far north of their intended destination in Virginia Colony, they realized that they would be outside the jurisdiction of any established government. To maintain order, the settlers signed the Mayflower Compact as a means to pledge allegiance to King James, legitimize their settlement outside their chartered land, and to establish a civil government with the authority to enact laws.

Important years to note for the Mayflower Compact:

  • 1620: The Mayflower Compact is signed aboard the Mayflower.
  • 1691: Plymouth Colony is absorbed into Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Mayflower Compact remained the governing document until this time.

Why is the Mayflower Compact so important?

The Mayflower Compact is considered the first written document establishing self-governance in what would become the United States. Its framework was democratic in nature, with the signers electing a governor who executed laws based on majority rule. As such, it is widely considered to be the first step towards the nation building a democratic republic, as well as a precursor to the U.S. Constitution.

What are some historical people and events related to the Mayflower Compact?

  • King James I: King of England at the time of the Mayflower’s sailing. The Separatists aboard the ship were fleeing religious persecution under his rule. In the compact, the Pilgrims pledged allegiance to him.
  • John Carver: The Pilgrim credited with writing the Compact. He acted as Plymouth Colony’s first governor.
  • William Bradford: A Pilgrim aboard the Mayflower and signer of the compact. His journal, Of Plimoth Plantation, recorded a thorough account of the early Pilgrims and included a copy of the Mayflower Compact. Bradford also became the governor of Plymouth after the 1621 death of John Carver.

What example question about the Mayflower Compact might come up on the APUSH exam?

“In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, king, defender of the faith, etc. having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of 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.”
-Mayflower Compact, 1620 (Source

One purpose of the Mayflower Compact was too
A) establish a social contract among settlers of Plymouth Colony.
B) grant Separatists legal protection against persecution from King James.
C) expand the chartered land for Virginia Colony.
D) sanction Calvinism as the colony’s accepted religion.


The correct answer is (A). The Mayflower landed outside the jurisdiction of Virginia Colony. The Pilgrims, recognizing a need to establish an official government before settling ashore, drafted and signed the Mayflower Compact aboard the ship. Its primary purpose was to create a binding social contract among the Separatists and non-Separatists in order to ensure the order and success of the colony.

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  • Sarah Bradstreet

    Sarah is an educator and writer with a Master’s degree in education from Syracuse University who has helped students succeed on standardized tests since 2008. She loves reading, theater, and chasing around her two kids.

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