Recently, junior Ashbrook Scholar, Dennis Clark, entered the Douglas B. Rogers Conditions of a Free Society Essay Competition at St. Vincent College. The competition seeks to honor the memory of a former scholar Doug Rogers who died tragically in 2011, inviting undergraduate students from around the country to participate in a conversation on the moral foundations of Western Civilization, limited constitutional government, and free economics.
Students were asked to comment on Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Gideon Granger which explains that if federalism properly understood is destroyed, then the national government will become the main engine through which politics is conducted. If this were to happen, Jefferson argued, the national government would necessarily become corrupt and suppress the liberties of the people.
Clark in his essay tied this letter to a speech given by former President Obama in 2006, where he contended that we are entering an age where small politics will give way to national politics and national concerns. Using Jefferson’s reasoning as a basis for his argument, Clark noted that such a transition would be detrimental to American politics as a whole. Having politics occur on a local level is vital for Clark in the sense that it educates the citizenry in both the character of our political institutions, as well as politics more broadly.
Clark also felt as if his education at the Ashbrook Center gave him a leg up on the competition: “Being taught how to read a text made me feel more confident in my abilities to analyze the Jefferson letter.” Clark also said that he feels lucky to have had such a comprehensive study of American History at Ashbrook, noting that “I have taken two semesters of American history, an in depth study of the Early Republic, and two semesters of American Political Thought; having such a rich education allowed me to place this letter within a broader context than just the historical time and place when it was written.” For his talents, Clark was awarded $2,000 and has said that the money he received will go back into his education.