Exactly 400 years after 41 men in the galley of a ship called the Mayflower agreed to form a “civil body politic,” the public would do well to put the “civil” back into our self-government.

The Mayflower Compact was signed on Nov. 21, 1620 (Nov. 11 under the then-current Julian calendar), not just by noblemen, as had been the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbroath, but by 36 ordinary “freemen,” three hired men, and two indentured/apprenticed servants. While acknowledging King James as their “sovereign,” they agreed to be governed by “just and equal laws” they themselves would “enact, constitute, and frame.”

This short document was remarkable and groundbreaking for many reasons, a number of which are discussed in parts one and two of the Heritage Foundation’s three-part video conference series, which concludes on Nov. 23. Not least among them were the then-novel idea of what later became known as a “social compact,” the reliance on the consent of the governed, and the reality that what became democratic self-government was rooted inexorably in faith, as practiced by people insistent on religious liberty from a crown-sponsored church.

Americans, especially younger ones, should study and learn this history as a counterweight to the anti-American claptrap so often taught today that claims this nation has been irredeemably racist and benighted from its inception.

To start, though, let’s avail ourselves of the double meaning of the word “civil” — one relating to societal arrangements and the other to something akin to, although greater than, polite and considerate personal interactions. It is beyond doubt, alas, that today’s politics have become a decidedly uncivil arena. It is also beyond doubt that the incivility now is greater and potentially more destabilizing than it was in prior decades.

This is not to say politics was ever genteel….

[Please read the full column, which is at this link.]


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