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Dr. Larry Arnn’s Hillsdale Dialogue on the Mayflower Compact

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HH: It is the last radio hour of the week, the day after Thanksgiving, 2017. I’m joined by Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. You heard me talking with him for three hours yesterday, but that was the miracle of audio tape talking about Winston Churchill for three hours from our many hours of conversation about Churchill to mark the opening of Darkest Hour, which I hope all of you are seeing this weekend. It was Churchill Thanksgiving, Dr. Arnn, yesterday. I think many people enjoyed that on their long morning drive to grandmother’s house.

LA: I hope so. I hope so. So the movie’s going to do great, I think, and I hope it does.

HH: I think, I’m seeing Oscar buzz for Gary Oldman. And that, you know, I really, we’ve talked about it before, I hope it happens. But today on the day after Thanksgiving, I thought we would go back to something we skipped in our long course of Hillsdale Dialogues, all of which are collected at And all things Hillsdale are at I thought we would go back to the Mayflower Compact. We skipped that inexplicably, Larry Arnn. Why do you think we skipped that the first time around?

LA: It got lost among the other great stuff.

HH: You should have just blamed the producer, Duane. That’s actually the answer to everything.

LA: (laughing) I haven’t got the knack, yet.

HH: (laughing) Yeah, it’s just Duane’s fault. So the Mayflower Compact is a 1620 agreement. It was actually a legal document. Tell people about what it is and why we care about it. And your description of it to me in an email just made me laugh.

LA: Well, we were corresponding with a devoted friend and fan of Hugh Hewitt, and we got witty there for a minute. But, so first of all, understand that it’s a, this is an instrument of government, and it’s negotiated so that the leaders of the colony, and what that meant was all of the ones who were on the Mayflower, the ship, who were members of the church who were moving to Virginia, they thought they were going to, to settle and practice their own faith by themselves, which was an early movement in colonial history, and which didn’t work out, and which gave way, eventually, to freedom of religion. But they, and so only the ones who were members of the church, because one of the purposes of the colony was to practice that faith. But they all agreed, and they promised just and equal laws, and that idea of compact was a thing deep written, deeply written in the Judeo-Christian history, in the Jewish faith and the Christian faith, and deeply written in the ideas of the time eventually arising in the Declaration of Independence and the notion that you cannot be governed except by your consent. So this is an instrument of consent. It doesn’t read as it would have read if James I, then the ruler of England, had written it. It doesn’t read, because James I wrote a book about this. It doesn’t read I, William Bradford, the chief author and eventually leader of the Plymouth Colony, have been born and appointed by Almighty God to rule the rest of you. There’s no thought of that there. We must all do this thing, and we must all sign, and we’re not bound unless we do.

HH: Do you have it before you?

LA: I do.

HH: Can you care to read it?

LA: Oh, yeah.

HH: Please do.

LA: It’s not very long. In the name of God, Amen. It’s November 11th, 1620, is when it was written. We whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign, and isn’t that a nice way to talk, Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, see, it’s funny. That late, 1620, the King of England still ruled parts of France.

HH: Yeah.

LA: Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, so purposes, right, the glory of God and the 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. Of course, they got lost.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And one of the reasons they wrote this document, by the way, is they had a charger from the King, and from the Virginia company, where settlements had just begun about 15 years earlier they had a charter for Virginia. But now, they’re somewhere else, and they don’t quite know what they are.

HH: (laughing)

LA: So they think this charter we’ve got is not going to work. We need to legalize ourselves…do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic. Now that, to them, in their minds, and to the minds of most Americans for the next 200 years, that’s a model of the covenant that establishes our relations with God first in the covenant with Abraham. And remember, that’s, we have a contract. The Jews had a contract with God, which Christians understand themselves to inherit through Jesus. And so the Old Testament, which is of course a wonderful thing to read, is full of prophets and leaders appealing to this contract. We’ve got this thing, God. You said you’d do this, and we said we’d to this. And God replies you didn’t do your bit. And then they always reply but we will. They’re trying to reestablish the covenant. So this is, you know, if you just read the Bible, it’s like that…

HH: It makes perfect sense, yes.

LA: And it marks out something unusual about both Judaism and Christianity. There’s a kind of element of volunteerism, and therefore of freedom, in these relations. …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. Now what’s interesting about that, you see, because we shall constitute a frame just and equal laws, ordinances and acts, and don’t you see that just like the Declaration of Independence establishes, the Declaration of Independence goes much further. The Declaration of Independence establishes both a manner of government, that’s government by consent, but also a structure of government. If you just read it all through, you’ll see separation of powers and representation. What this means is we are going to do this, we’re going to carry on, and we’re going to do what we have to do to govern ourselves, and we’re going to do it under this document to which we’ve all agreed from which arises our duty of obedience. And the implication is we will all be represented in the doing of it.

HH: Yeah.

LA: So the whole, in this little one paragraph, I’ve read all except the bits at the end where they make it official just like at the end of the Declaration of Independence, in this document is the sort of model of the establishment of government in the new world.

HH: And it’s almost 400 years old. It’s 1620.

LA: That’s right.

HH: But it, 400 years ago, and you know, they’ve got a lot of time on their hands, right? They’re smart guys, and the women are not signed here, but they are obviously in the conversation with John Carver and William Bradford and Edward Winslow and Brewster and Allerton and Miles Standish and John Alden and the rest of them. They all sign their name on this, so this is obviously not a throwaway, right? They have spent hours, weeks, years developing these thoughts, Larry Arnn?

LA: Well, they’ve had, so they spent a year, so you know, so first of all, I mean, these people who had fled from England, William Bradford was from Yorkshire, which is way up in the north, they had spent a long time in quarrels with the government, officer of James I, who was, he wasn’t the James who was thrown out of the place. He was a relatively mild ruler about religious wars. And what that meant, though, was that you could be arrested for going to the wrong church, and some of them were.

HH: Yeah.

LA: …and their property taken. So they fled to Holland, which was better on these grounds, but they didn’t like it that their kids were not growing up, you know, as their families had always lived. They were in a new world, and they went looking, and so they started, they spent a year negotiating with high authorities in England, which had been persecuting, about can we get a charter to go over there. Now the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which would eventually absorb Plymouth and about 70 years later, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a kind of entrepreneurial activity with lots of Christians in it. This was primarily Christians with some others added by the finance company, the Merchant Adventurers, which gave them some money for their ship and for stores, and for, to get them, to get themselves planted. And they sent along a bunch of people who were skilled, who were workmen, carpenters and people who could help you build a colony. And so the rest of the group were not members of these people who referred to themselves, by the way, as saints and separatists, mainly.

HH: When we come back from break, we’re going to talk about saints and separatists. Tomorrow, by the way, on MSNBC, I’m interviewing Ken Follett from London about his new novel, A Column of Fire, which is all about Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and by the way, James I, who as you say, Larry Arnn, was a mild ruler compared to Bloody Mary, then Elizabeth I, and indeed Mary Queen of Scots. Don’t go anywhere, America. It’s the Hillsdale Dialogue on the day after Thanksgiving. We’re talking about the Mayflower Compact of 1620, which John Quincy Adams 140 years later described as the only instance in human history of that positive original social compact. It’s really the first instance. More when we return. Stay tuned.

— – – – —

HH: Dr. Larry Arnn, I said before the break, tomorrow on MSNBC, I’ll be interviewing Ken Follett. He’s written a new novel of the time around the death of Henry VIII, the succession of Mary, Bloody Mary, followed by the son, and followed by Elizabeth, followed by James I. And religious toleration was not to be, it was not taken for granted, because it didn’t exist.

LA: That’s right.

HH: These people, they’re fleeing.

LA: And see, this beginning point of all this, because this is very early colonial history, English colonial history in America. And just think of the things they had to work out. They thought, they called themselves separatists, right, because, and it’s a kind of a peaceful attitude, right? We have heard of a land that is so big that nobody knows how big it is, right? And it’s actually true that nobody on the East Coast of America learned how big it was until after the American Revolution in the first decade of the 19th Century, right? It was, so it’s so big that we can go over there and just live by ourselves. And that, and see, that’s an excellent impulse, right? All of these people are messing with us and making us worship in ways we don’t want, and we don’t want to do that to anybody else. So we’re going to go off by ourselves. And what, the colonial history to come, you know, it leads to the creation of Connecticut, the first place where religious freedom was established, because in Massachusetts and in, eventually in Virginia, they found that although the new world was practically speaking infinite in size, they didn’t know how big it was, it still wasn’t big enough, because every time they would get together and form a little colony, and try to enforce their particular thing, they would fight, and people would leave. And they would…

HH: Or they would be exiled, right?

LA: That’s right.

HH: They threw some people out.

LA: Or thrown out. And see, these pilgrims, they came to be called pilgrims because of Bradford’s journal. These, he mentioned that they were all, everybody on the ship, he said, was a pilgrim, and that means included not just these 41 who were the males in the separatist group, but the rest who were along to help them. And the trouble was, they had to bring a bunch of people who were not of this with them, and what about them? And so it’s just, it’s a fabulous story about colonial history how the principles of freedom as they came to their culmination in the founding era were worked out by experience.

HH: In a written document…

LA: …for a long time.

HH: In a constitution, and a minute to break, Dr. Arnn, it’s a written document. The British Constitution was never written down. And so our Constitution is really the first written government-prescribing constitution. But this is the first written compact, the Mayflower Compact. And it is in our DNA whether or not the left wants to admit it. It’s about being left alone.

LA: Yeah, and just remember that these doctrines, this covenant with God, that’s a different kind of relation with God that was imagined in the ancient world. And, but Judaism is in the ancient world, and it imagined it differently. But then the second thing is it means that you, each one of you, and that means man, woman and child, has a pact with God, and you will be united with Him in eternity, and that means you have your own duties to Him. And you are responsible for them. And that gives rise to the idea of your rights and the limits on the government not to interfere with your practice of them.

HH: When we come back from break, more on the Mayflower Compact. This Thanksgiving, as you drive around in the parking lot, you may want to go into that mall aware that 400 years ago, 1620, so it’s 397 years ago, some very brave people went a very long way to make sure you could go to the mall today. And say a prayer of Thanksgiving for them. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College, I’ll be right back.

— – – – —

HH: We’re talking today in the tradition of this series about the Mayflower Compact, penned in 1620 by the pilgrims as they settled into Massachusetts. It reads, “In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, 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 our selves 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. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.” Larry Arnn, that is so elegant. I could just read it again and again.

LA: Yeah.

HH: You know, it doesn’t take a lot to get a lot done.

LA: So and think, you know, because to read history, you have to sort of put yourself in their place and think that they’re people just like you. And these high things that they write here, it’s important to remember what a rugged people they were. So in the Wall Street Journal tomorrow, I urge everybody, and there’s always a version of it not behind their paywall, they always print two articles every year since 1961 on Thanksgiving Day. And the first of the two is from Morton, who was the journalist for the Plymouth colonists, and here’s how he describes what they saw. “Besides what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men. And what multitudes of them there were, they knew not. For which so ever way they turned their eyes, save upward to Heaven, they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object for the summer being ended. All things stand in appearance with a weather beaten face. And the whole country full of woods and thickets represented a wild and savage hue.” Looking at that, you see, everybody should read that. It’s one of the great journalist institutions in America. Also on Christmas Day, they always print something very beautiful in the Wall Street Journal. But this thing, you see, and they say they look behind them, and nothing but a mighty ocean, which two of them, remember, had died crossing. There’s nowhere to go. And so they write this beautiful thing and subscribe to it appealing to God, addressing God as His children possessing their rights from Him.

HH: You know, it is Ignatian spiritual exercises that the Jesuits follow that say when you read Scripture, enter into the Scripture. Pick a person in the story and try and assume the point of view of that person if you really want to understand, for example, Jesus giving the parable, the talents. Pick the servant who’s going to get thrown into the outer darkness, or pick someone like that. So if we try and enter into William Bradford, who wrote up Plymouth Plantation, or you try and be Miles Standish or John Alden, I mean, you’re screwed. I’ve been to Cape Cod. You don’t want to be there in the winter. You don’t want to be there with, you know, 100 people. It’s so daunting, Larry, that this country rose up out of that beginning.

LA: And it all arises from an unwillingness to pray as they were ordered up in Yorkshire.

HH: (laughing) Let’s go there, because this week, I had on the attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom who will be arguing Masterpiece Cakeshop. And it is meet and proper, to quote from the Compact, that we talk about Jack Phillips, whose cake shop in Colorado is under heavy sanction, and he’s being obliged to report every cake that he decorates to the Colorado Human Rights Commission, because he refused to decorate one, Larry, for a same sex couple. Now Jack Phillips, I have met. I know him. I know his counsel. I know the Alliance Defending Freedom. In the past, he has consistently refused, for example, to put alcohol in cakes, to do Halloween cakes, to make cakes with any message to which he did not subscribe. And the Colorado Human Rights Commission has put him under an order to report every cake that he decorates, and has fined him. It is, it’s actually remarkable that this is a case, but it’s to the Supreme Court in December.

LA: That’s it. And just think what that means, right? It’s a big, old country, but not big enough if all of us are ordered to violate our convictions, especially about God. And they had, these colonists, and think, I mean, I think these are heroic people, by the way.

HH: Of course, yes.

LA: And they, but later, they’re, those who followed them would come to understand that one of the things you have to have to have free government is leave people alone. And this man, he’s just decorating cakes, right? And lots of people decorate cakes. And you can go get one somewhere else if you want to. But that, and that kind of order, see, and that’s a brand of a thing that on which freedom of speech was worked out in England, because what they would do, what makes it convenient to the crown or to the authorities is what you call licensing. That is to say you have to do what we say and subscribe to do it in advance, or you can’t start. And then you have to report everything, and then whenever it pleases us, and it’s otherwise no trouble to us, we can take issue with what you’re doing.

HH: And I want to connect Jack Phillips, the Masterpiece Cakeshop baker and artist back to these pilgrims, because they would not bend the knee. That is to me the, what’s the Electric Cord of mystery that Lincoln referred to, that takes us back to 1620 right up to 2017. These were religious dissenters from the orthodoxy of their time with which they could not submit, because of their reading of Scripture. So they left, and they asked to be left alone. And the state did not follow them for 400 years, but now it has.

LA: In their contract that they had leaving England with James I, it’s an interesting thing. He wouldn’t let them practice their religion within the bounds of England, which was bad. But he would let them do it over here. And he only demanded the thing that it’s right for the state to demand, and that is they had to conduct, they had to agree even in the wilderness, they had to agree to conduct themselves peacefully with other subjects of the crown.

HH: And they recognized his authority at the beginning and at the end.

LA: That’s right. They were happy to agree to molest no one else so as not to be molested themselves.

HH: Yeah. Now Larry, I want to make sure that we treat one line in here. Therefore, we constitute and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitution and offices. Equality is a word much abused. And I think we probably spent more time than anything else talking about what it means for all men to be created equal, and by their Creator endowed with certain unalienable rights. But here, what do they mean by that, just and equal laws?

LA: Well, that, you know, so the women question came up in passing, right? And the women don’t sign this Compact. And you have to understand how that plays out in the founding of America, too. First of all, in New Jersey, in the 18th Century, women voted for a long time. And then that was repealed.

HH: I didn’t know that.

LA: It’s true, yeah.

HH: Oh.

LA: And that was repealed, and not with great controversy. And here’s why. And see, I’m, you know, I mean, we are, the hallmark of Hillsdale College, one of them, is we’ve always taken men and women, black and white, all colors, all alike, right? And that’s because women think just like men, except, you know, on the average, a bit better.

HH: A bit better.

LA: Yeah, there you go.

HH: A lot better, actually.

LA: But there is the fact of the family, right? We organize ourselves in families, and we come to be through families. And we take a long time to raise, we human beings, and it takes families to do it best. And that is the cradle of freedom. So a lot of these arrangements, you have to remember, are arrangements where they were to vote as families. And the men who were the ones who went out among others the most would cast the vote. And all you’ve got to do is read the writing and diaries of Abigail Adams, for example, to see that there were women, many, and including on this ship, the Mayflower, who were very influential people, all, with their husbands, but also in addition, in the colony. And that, you know, in my family, I decide the important things. My wife decides the unimportant things. And she decides which is which.

HH: (laughing) That is perfectly put. Let me read to you what John Quincy Adams said about the Mayflower Compact. “The only instance,” he was writing this in 1802, by the way. It’s long after the Declaration, long after the Constitution. He’s our sixth president. “The only instance in human history of that positive, original social compact.” He’s writing it before Rousseau, right?

LA: Yeah.

HH: What do you think he means by that?

LA: Well, that’s, you know, because just think of the nature of the opportunity here, which I argue is unprecedented, and also cannot be repeated. The settlement of North America was a movement of a civilization where the people who went really carried the chief governing authority with themselves. And they took whole families, which is the kernel of entire societies. They were called plantations, because they were going to grow, you see? And they brought the principles of free government with them. And then they got to settle in a new world, and nobody knew what was there. But they got to start over in a way, and yet bringing a lot with them mostly in principle and in books. And so that chance to go again, and everybody starting out equal, right? There’s no aristocrats on this boat, although there’s something like that in the ones who are actually members of the church. They’re the only ones who signed this. But even that, soon enough, had to be discarded.

HH: We’ll talk about that after the break. Go nowhere, America, last segment of the week coming right up.

— — – —

HH: Larry, when we went to break, you were saying that very quickly, those who signed the Mayflower Compact had to make common purpose and cause with those who did not, who had not come along as part of the colony. Sort of the hidden driver of American history is that all must be included or none can be.

LA: That’s it. And the reason is because we’re the same kind of thing. And if you think through, you know, on Earth, we are presented with cross purposes, right? So we are all equal children of God, and we’ve all got our bodies, and we’ve all got to take care of them, because we all get hungry and starve if we don’t. And so there is this equality that we’re all the same kind of thing. And yet we are divided by our sex, by our religion, by our faith. And the only way we can live together is if we make the basis of our society our common humanity. And then that drives us to be friends with each other, because we all need the same protection from government. And that, so that, you know, that gave rise to the United States of America, which is one of the greatest things that ever happened.

HH: And as we close out, we begin the holiday season, you and I have been talking about fundamental things are afoot in this country. I think a lot of the answers to why the regulatory state has ticked off so many people, a lot of the hidden keys that are right in front of us to understanding what is going on, has to do with this Compact and this original act behind the Compact of running away from a government that will not leave you alone.

LA: And that, you know, and just remember it’s one of the great strains of people who think about American exceptionalism. And America is exceptional. It’s different, right? It’s great, in my opinion, but everybody has to admit it’s different. It started differently than anything ever did. But then, that gives rise to another thing. If you lose this, where are you going to go?

HH: Where are you going to go?

LA: Where is the new, new world, right? There isn’t one.

HH: And I want to underscore as well, just leave people alone. All this volcano of sexual harassment cases, you know they all would have been avoided if people would just leave people alone?

LA: Yeah.

HH: It’s just, it is really a great hallmark of freedom to respect, and it’s in the Mayflower Compact, to respect that part about not bothering your neighbors, just living alone and to your own purposes be true. And it’s kind of easy to do. I’m sure at Hillsdale College, you find a lot of disciplinary issues would have never arisen had someone simply turned the other way or walked a different way, or just chose not to argue.

LA: That’s right. And you know, in a college, in a close world, and communities can be like a college, right? They can, the point is friendship is greater than justice. And so in the course of leaving people alone, you should love them. And in a college, you know, we just had Thanksgiving dinner. And my message was, because we don’t like to parade our specialness and tell each other how great we are. We only tell that to the outside world.

HH: (laughing)

LA: But I said to them, you know, just remember this thing we have here, it’s lovely. Just about everybody loves it. It’s very successful. That’s a privilege. And I said everybody look across the table at everybody with you. You are obliged to love them and help them learn, and they, you. You see, that’s what overcomes, you know, I mean, alas, Hillsdale College has boys in it, you know, and they act like boys. And they don’t go too far, though, because they signed the code, and they’ve accepted the responsibilities, and they straighten right up when they’re reminded of them. And you know, girls do that, too, sometimes.

HH: And they often do the reminding. Dr. Larry Arnn, what is the tradition there? Do you have everyone into the dining hall at the same time? It’s a beautiful dining hall. I’m only invited there in January, so it’s always cold.

LA: Yeah.

HH: But it’s a beautiful place. You get them all together?

LA: Yeah, we do. On the Sunday night before Thanksgiving, because we leave, you know, they’re gone now. We leave on, really, we leave on Tuesday night. We don’t have classes on Wednesday, so you get Wednesday through Sunday, and that’s, by the way, isn’t that a great holiday, Thanksgiving?

HH: Yes.

LA: Because you’re not rushing around shopping unless you do it on Black Friday, today. But you know, the obligations to perform things are fewer around Thanksgiving, and you can relax and be grateful. And so we have a gratitude dinner on Sunday night.

HH: Well, at the risk of inflating an already too large ego, I’ve got to say I’m thankful for you and for the Hillsdale Dialogue, and my audience often says that of the many things they love about the show, and they are many, including Duane and Adam, and long-suffering members of the staff far and wide, they love this hour, and I love you’re doing it. Happy Thanksgiving weekend to you, Dr. Arnn, and we’ll talk next Friday.

End of interview.


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