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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Learning Objective II:

Discuss the background to and the development of New Plymouth and how it represents the principle of "Salutary Neglect".



With the continued growth of the Separatists in England the Anglican Church and governmental authorities became quite hostile towards the movement. Consequently , between 1608 and 1609 many of the Separatists fled to Holland--Leyden and Scrooby--where they eked out a hard living. After living in the Netherlands for some time, many of the Separatists feared that they were losing their distinct identity as their children were losing contact with their native English culture and they themselves were prevented from participating in the Dutch guild or union system.

With these problems , plus the fear that Spain (a Catholic country) might conquer the Netherlands , led some Separatists, among them William Bradford (later to become governor of the colony), to organize a movement to go to the New World where they might have a more favorable environment. Money presented the major obstacle to their plans so they petitioned for a land patent and a loan from the Virginia Company of London.

According to the terms of the contract that was drawn up, they would accompany a body of non-Pilgrims on a voyage to some of the unclaimed lands of Virginia and the company would also advance them 700. 

In return the colonists would work seven years for the Virginia Company . At the end of this time, all the profits derived from fishing or trading would be divided between the settlers and the merchants.

On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower sailed with 101 people for the New World . A baby was born on the way over so 102 people arrived at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620, too late to plant any crops.

This area was outside the domain of the Virginia Company, and consequently the settlers became squatters. They were without legal right to the land and without specific authority to establish a government, a serious matter since some sailors who were not Pilgrims threatened mutiny.

Before disembarking, and in order to avoid anarchy, 41 men agreed to "covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politick." The Pilgrim leaders drew up and signed the brief Mayflower Compact. Consequently, a contract or social compact voluntarily drawn up by the settlers themselves became the foundation of government in early Plymouth. Every member had the right to vote for the governor and his assistants, which meant that everyone had a voice in determining policy.

Hence, the Mayflower Compact stands with the Virginia Assembly of 1619 (The House of Burgesses) as a foundation to the basic principles of American self government. (The seeds of self-government in the House of Burgesses and the Mayflower Compact were the products of the constitutional evolution within England which dated back to the Magna Carta of 1215. (These transplanted ideas (germ theory) were eventually to be modified and molded into institutions, in some cases so distinctively as to embody eventually an American character. 

The Compact was the foundation of the colony's government and served as such until 1686 when the King combined the colony with the rest of New England in a vast new colony called the Dominion of New England.

Plymouth never received a charter from the King and was the only colony not to do so. However, the Council for New England which had control over the area by way of a charter from the King did grant a patent for title to the land in 1621 giving each settler 100 acres. (The boundaries of the patent were not spelled out at this time.) The fact that the colonists from the Plymouth colony were able to govern themselves from 1620 until 1686 (when the King combined them with the rest of the New England colonies into a vast new colony called the Dominion of New England) demonstrates a good deal of neglect on the part of England in administrating her colonies. It is because of this neglect and other situations that will be discussed later that the period from Jamestown in 1607 until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 will be defined as a period of "salutary neglect."

The phrase "salutary neglect" is justified in describing this period because all of the colonies within a relatively short period of time were able to become virtually independent, acknowledging allegiance to whatever authority had control in England, but making their own laws, trading · where they pleased, defending themselves without help from home and working out and developing their own institutions and value system.

The significance of this period is that it allows the American Revolution as an evolutionary process to take place. It is during this time that the colonists in Virginia, Georgia, New Plymouth and the rest of England's continental colonies were developing their own economic, political, social and cultural identity. This new identity was a reflection of the new set of values and the new ways of doing things that led to the development of. new institutions that were emerging from the colonies. This can be exemplified in several ways.

First by the colonial practice of annual elections of all officers--governor as well the colonial legislature--on a definite date. This practice became popular throughout the colonies and still survives in the federal government, with the election of the President, senators, and representatives on the same day.

Next, in the area of representation, the differences were significant. In order to vote or hold office in the colonies a man had to be a landowner or freeholder in the colony, county or town were he was running for office--GEOGRAPHIC REPRESENTATION. 

The English believed in VIRTUAL REPRESENTATION-­ representation of classes and interests rather than of localities. The concept held that, since all of the interests of the empire's citizens were considered in Parliament, all were therefore "virtually" represented in that forum. 

 It made little difference that large numbers of Englishmen did not actually elect representatives to Parliament this was irrelevant because the members of that body represented not the concerns of individuals or locales but rather the interests of the nation and the empire as a whole.

Hence, American institutions began to diverge from English institutions at an early age. The divergence occurred during the formative stage in colonial development thereby allowing the colonist to develop their own way of doing things . This had a major impact in the decade after 1763 when the period of "salutary neglect" ended and England tried to enforce her institutions, values and ways of doing things on the colonists.

A statement from John Adams made to Thomas Jefferson in 1818, reflecting back on the developmental growth of the colonies best describes this process .

"But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people .... this radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution ."

Another significant point about New Plymouth was that no group of settlers in America were so ill-fitted by experience and equipment to cope with the wilderness_ as this little band of peasants, town laborers, and shipkeepers; yet none came through their trials so magnificently . 

The Pilgrims' first winter of 1620-1621 saw only 44 out of the 102 survive. At one time only seven were well enough to lay the dead in their frosty graves. Yet when the Mayflower sailed back to England in the spring, not a single one of the courageous band of Pilgrims left. These Pilgrims have set forth in acts, as in words, the stout-hearted individualistic idealism in action that Americans admire; that is why Plymouth Rock has become a symbol in our society .