Owen Mische, 17, authored the following paper for his JROTC Program. He then presented the paper as a speech to the American Legion Post 406 Oratory Contest in St. Paul. He was successful and advanced to the District Level and ultimately to the State American Legion Finals where he finished 4th in the Oratory Contest. He has given me permission to post his remarks here on my blog. I hope you will enjoy them as much as we are proud of him.
The United States of America was born on July 4, 1776.
Our revolution was a product of British imperialism, neglect, and mismanagement. Winning the revolution served as a testament to the unbreakable will of the men and women living in the British colonies in North America.
The last 241 years have served as testament to the both the strength of the ideals this country was founded on and the resilient nature of her people. In the 241 years since her inception the United States of America has endured war, injustice, and sorrow. She has grieved, celebrated, and most importantly carried on.
The ability to carry on functioning in the wake of extreme national trauma or duress stems from our constitution. Just as the United States is a remarkable country our constitution is a remarkable document. It provides the government with their mandate, and operating procedures, as well as establishing the fundamental rights to which every American is entitled.
There are two pieces of the of the constitution that stand apart from the rest in terms of significance. The first is the bill of rights, a documentation of the power wielded by each and every American just by virtue of being born here. The second is the ability for the constitution to change.
In the immediate aftermath of our Revolution the country faced a challenge. The British had previously provided all necessary governmental infrastructure. Now, the 13 newly independent colonies had to start from scratch to create a country. The first attempt, The Articles of Confederation was a massive failure.
In 1787 the founders were embroiled in a debate regarding a new constitution. The inclusion of the bill of rights was a condition of ratification imposed by those wary of a central government with too much power, they had just spent eight long years wresting power away from the government, they did not want to install a similarly powerful ruling body.
The framers created the bill of rights as a safeguard against becoming the same sort of nation they had fought so hard to be free from. The bill of rights serves as a guarantee from the federal government to relinquish part of its power to the peoples of the United States. This sort of guarantee was exceedingly rare in the 18th century, and unfortunately is not universal amongst America’s peers even today.
In 1835 French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “The greatness of America liesnot in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”.
The constitution is often called a “living document.” The ability to change in an outlined, democratic process sets the constitution apart from other historical documents.
I’d like to see the Magna Carta do that.
The United States has been able to adapt and thrive in changing times. The fact that the Constitution has only been changed 17 times since it was ratified should say something as to the strength of the document and the country.
It is to the framer’s credit that our laws change to meet the needs of the nation, and not the other way around. The United States is not perfect, even after two and a half centuries. The rights detailed in the constitution have periodically been denied to groups of people because the attitude of those in power was not one of systemic liberty. We have never been perfect, but the ability to change is what makes this country great.
The ability to correct our failings is built into the fabric of our nation because of the constitution.
The historical achievement of the US constitution should not be understated. It was created in such a way that would allow it to endure for 241 years. This is including a massively destructive civil war and two world wars. The American colonies under British rule operated more or less independently from each other. Even after the colonies won their independence Virginians still thought of themselves as Virginians, New Yorkers thought of themselves as New Yorkers, no one thought of themselves as Americans. It would take Civil War and Reconstruction to adopt a common national identity. The fact that the constitution was able to galvanize the 13 wildly different, independent colonies into a country not only capable of operating, but thrive is remarkable.
As citizens of this nation we are privileged to live protected by the constitution. On the other hand we each have a responsibility to preserve the ideals of the United States and to exercise our rights. The best way to protect our way of life is to actively participate in it. The easiest way to do that is to vote. Vote in local, state, and federal elections. A byproduct of our first amendment is that Americans love to complain about their government. Americans have been given the right to freely voice their complaints and a mechanism to act on them.
The constitution gives us the power to determine our government, it is not only exceptionally foolish, but completely irresponsible not to use it.
Voting is the fundamental responsibility of an American citizen. We owe it to ourselves and our country not only to place a vote, but to do our due diligence and make sure that vote is properly informed. The last election and the political upheaval that has stemmed from it only drives home the importance of informing oneself properly. Voting in this country, especially in local and state elections is viewed as a chore. This leads to a culture of minimal civic engagement and impulse voting along party lines or based off a shallow personal preference.
We saw in Virginia this last year an election be decided by the flip of a coin. If one more person had the mind to make it to the polling place and vote that election would not have made national news. Instead the people of Virginia decided to hope someone else would go vote. The Virginia house of delegates race was decided in an un democratic way that was, to be frank, embarrassing. As a nation we need to step up to both participate more in the system and change the culture surrounding that participation. No more relying on others to vote for you.
If you don’t like the direction something is taking you can do something about it. If the candidate you don’t like wins and you didn’t vote, that’s on you. Harry Truman put it best, “The buck stops here.”
Protest is another way of participating in the American system. The history of the United States’ is one filled with protest. From Boston Harbor to Selma, Alabama Americans have not been shy voicing their dissatisfaction. Recent events have shed a great deal of light and scrutiny on the idea of protest. There are those who would decry the right to assembly of those who do not align with their worldview. Whether it’s taking a knee at a football game or marching against abortion.
The impulse today is to demean those who disagree with you. I have seen both sides of the aisle say the other are not “real Americans” This simply isn’t true. There are few things more American than protest. In fact, it comes in just after a Yankees game when determining the national pastime.
When there is injustice in this country it is the civic responsibility of Americans to participate in their system to change it. Voting and protesting are the best ways for citizens to engage themselves with the governmental system and work to affect change as they see it to be necessary and right.
In conclusion, the United States is a very special country. This is in large part thanks to our constitution, written with a promise of power to every individual American and the ability to adapt to changing times. Americans have a civic responsibility to exercise their right to assembly when confronted with injustice, cast informed votes in elections, and support the defense of the country and the constitution either directly or otherwise. America is an exceptional nation that was founded on and embodies exceptional ideals.