Compact Theory

Philosophers including Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau theorized that peoples’ condition in a “state of nature” (that is, outside of a society) is one of freedom, but that freedom inevitably degrades into war, chaos, or debilitating competition without the benefit of a system of laws and government. They reasoned, therefore, that for their own happiness, individuals willingly trade some of their natural freedom in exchange for the protections provided by government.

The Magna Carta is the oldest example of a compact in England. The Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, and the Albany Plan are examples from the American colonies. The Articles of Confederation was a compact among the states, and the Constitution creates a compact based on a federal system between the national government, state governments, and the people. The Hayne-Webster Debate centered around the nature of the compact created by the Constitution.