On Monday, December 21, 2022, TheLegacyof1776.Com recognized the winners of its 2022 Scholarship Essay Contest; the first-place winner, Jessie Jin (a Council Rock North High School senior) and runner-up Hailey Morath (a senior attending Conwell-Egan Catholic High School).
This civics contest grew out of a profound respect for the Constitution but concern that over the past 30 years, America has become a nation increasingly characterized by partisan political and social tribalism, a loss of confidence in and distrust of many of our nation’s most critically-important and historically-trusted institutions, a growing public perception our judicial system has becoming increasingly politicized along ideological lines, a latent distrust of local law enforcement agencies in many minority communities, evidence-based science on issues ranging from vaccine efficacy to the climate being ignored, calls for censorship and limitation of speech and, without any proof, where a large minority of Americans believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
This has resulted in large numbers of Americans, feeling alienated or threatened by evolving societal changes, willing to sacrifice our constitutional-based democracy at the altar of demagogic promises of “American First” and a revival of an imagined social past, and acceptance of violence to achieve democratically-unattainable goals … for those who have forgotten history … echoing fears and promises sold to millions of people throughout Europe during the 1920s and 1930s.
While the causes for our nation’s current political and cultural schisms are multifaceted, it is undeniable a significant majority of Americans on both the Right and Left seem to have lost sight of our nation’s founding ideals and are all too often ignorant about civics, American history and the bedrock of our democracy, the Constitution. They have fallen into the mindset of watching or listening to media or consuming other information which justifies their preconceived and often misinformed views of the world … letting their opinions determine the facts they are willing to believe rather than letting facts shape their opinions … served up by self-serving politicians and talking heads for whom truth has given way to alternative facts and conspiracy theories for their own selfish ends of ratings, re-election or monetary gain.
Believing today’s young adults represent our nation’s “future generations” of voters and political leaders, TheLegacyof1776.com and Courier Times teamed up in 2021 to sponsor a scholarship essay contest focusing on American Civics and knowledge of our Constitution.
Its inaugural contest, open to all Bucks County high school seniors, encouraged interested students to submit a 250–300-word essay addressing; “What, if any, are, should be or should not be limitations on the freedoms granted and responsibilities imposed by the Bill of Rights … and why?”
This year’s students were challenged to write an essay answering the question; “Should the Constitution be interpreted based on a literal reading of the document’s original text (“originalism”) or viewed in the context of our nation’s evolving social, scientific and other changes since the time when it was written (a “living constitution”) and why?”
Each year a panel of seven independent judges read and rated each of the submissions with their collective consensus determining the first and second place awardees.
Jessie Jim’s Winning Essay – Entry #218
Shortly after the Constitution established the US government, Hamilton and Jefferson clashed over creating the National Bank, representing the clash between loose and strict construction, respectively. As new issues not outlined in the Constitution like trusts and consumer protection arose, Hamilton’s view proved correct, progressing society. Theodore Roosevelt could only deal with the negative effects of industrialization like monopolies and lack of consumer safety by viewing the Constitution as a living document. Without this view, he could not have busted trusts and promoted consumer health by laying the foundation for the FDA through the Pure Food and Drug Act. Likewise, to allow a 235-year-old document to remain relevant to today’s issues like climate change, health care, the wage gap, and terrorism, the Constitution must be viewed through a broad lens.
Additionally, this interpretation has helped America respond to crises. In response to the Great Depression, FDR initiated his New Deal which provided relief and made influential reforms like social security, impossible without a loose interpretation. More recently, this view has enabled the US to respond to COVID-19 with measures like the mask mandate, decreasing the spread of disease.
Furthermore, the view of a living constitution has promoted social justice. For instance, Brown v. Board of Education overturned “separate but equal” by arguing that black schools were inherently inferior to white schools, and thus segregation in public schools was unequal, laying the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement. Similarly, to advance human rights, gender equality, and immigration rights — not on the Founders’ agenda — the Constitution must be interpreted liberally.
Although some may fear that a living constitution could become a manipulable Constitution, the common law built on precedents and traditions in rulings will avert this situation. Thus, to make this aged document relevant and adaptable, a loose interpretation is necessary.
Jessie Jin is a senior at Council Rock High School North. In high school, she enjoyed conducting research through Science Fair. She also promotes STEM by organizing STEM workshops as an officer for Education Equals Empowerment and as the president of the Science National Honor Society. Beyond science, she is passionate about music and plays the flute in band and viola in orchestra. Her future plans are to major in biomedical engineering in college, though she is undecided about becoming a biomedical engineer or physician in the future. She hopes to contribute to the medical field by combining her interdisciplinary interests in the life sciences.
Hailey Morath’s Runner-up Essay – Entry #225
When the Constitution was written in 1787, the firearms of the time were muskets and flintlock pistols, firing single rounds at a time and hitting intended targets with little accuracy. Women still belonged to their husbands and were not even considering the idea of voting rights that would come more than a century later. Human beings were being bought and sold as property in the practice of slavery. The world has evolved in many ways since the Constitution was written, so it is necessary for our interpretation of it to evolve as well.
If the United States gets trapped in the past, we will have no ability to grow as a nation in the future. We should not ignore the past, because it made us the nation we are today. However we must also acknowledge the fact that the Constitution was written in a very different time and some of the practices and behaviors of our early history no longer apply. The guidelines put in place in the Constitution can remain as the foundation for our nation’s values, but taking every word literally would be foolish considering there are so many more factors to consider in this day and age. Our country now prides itself on diversity with citizens of all different cultures, sexualities, and backgrounds, but this way of life was never even considered back in 1787. Our nation also has developed many new forms of technology and weaponry, so the safety measures for those things need to be adapted accordingly.
The Founding Fathers could not have predicted all of the challenges we face as our nation progresses, so it is unreasonable to expect to find every solution in the Constitution. The past can remain our roots, but we should allow ourselves room to progress and grow, reaching our branches towards the sky and flourishing as a nation.
Hailey Morath took many STEM based courses through her high school career, along with some dual enrollment courses to get ahead on college credits. She also received Academic First Honors all throughout my high school career and has been active in many extracurricular and community service activities including the Conwell-Egan Drama Spring and Fall Productions, Chamber Choir, All-Catholic Chorus, Acapella Club, Spirit Night, National Honor Society, and Danaher Lynch Family Foundation Scholar. She has applied to a number of colleges where she plans to study Marine Sciences and become an Oceanographer
Dick Newbert, the editor of thelegacyof1776.com has been a widely-published commentator for more than three decades and has been the creator sponsored of this civics scholarship essay contests for Bucks County (PA) high school seniors focused on an understanding of the Constitution and American Civics. He is a graduate of Tufts University, a retired Naval Reserve Officer, Vietnam veteran and retired entrepreneur.
He has been active in many business organizations, local community boards, the American Red, recreational and interscholastic and other youth programs and is a past Rotary Club president. He has a passion for photography and, together with his wife, has traveled in their motorhome extensively throughout North America … having visited our federal and all fifty state capitols, each of the of the nation’s presidential libraries/museums and more than forty of the nation’s national parks. He lives with his wife in Langhorne, PA.