SCS Sophomores Participate in "We the People" Competition

Posted by Anna Thompson, SCS Sophomore at 1/30/2017

Stillwater’s sophomore class traveled to Helena on Monday and Tuesday to participate in the annual We the People: The Citizen and Constitution program. For the majority of their rhetoric course this year, students worked to improve their critical thinking and communication skills, while diving into an in-depth study of the Constitution. The class worked in cooperative teams and prepared four-minute statements that addressed specific questions related to the Constitution, which they presented before a panel of community representatives in a simulated Congressional hearing.

We the People

Teacher Ryan O’Rourke shared Anna Thompson’s response to the question in bold below.

In Opposition to Writs of Assistance, written in 1761 by James Otis, challenged the English idea of what constituted a constitution. He contended that a constitution could be understood as an instrument for limiting the legislative power of Parliament. What was the English conception of a constitution that Otis challenged? In what ways, if any, were the basic ideas held by Americans contrary to those held by the British? Were the colonists justified in believing that British policies violated basic principles of constitutional government? Why or why not?

What does life, freedom, liberty, and privacy mean to the modern American?  It means almost everything to us. These are the things this country was founded upon. They are key principles for a constitutional government.  We learned from England’s mistakes so our founding Fathers decided to make a constitutional government to protect the people. A constitution is an instrument for limiting the government’s power over the people.

James Otis Jr. argued in his historic Writs of Assistance Case of 1761 that the Writs were taking away the liberty, freedom, and privacy of the English citizens. The Writs were giving too much power to the English government. The government could give a warrant to anyone, and only on the barest hint of suspicion without any solid evidence. This example from the National Humanities Institute showed how the Writs imposed upon the liberty and privacy of the people. The JRank legal and reference library states that “a Writ of Assistance was a general search warrant that allowed customs officers to get the help of any local public official in making entry and seizure of contraband”. Although England didn’t have a written constitution, it was inferred that every man had a right to his home and privacy. England ended up taking away the freedoms that the people had fought for centuries earlier. Otis was correct in defending the people’s rights and trying to protect their freedom. Since England didn’t have a constitution, the Parliament had no boundaries set for what they could and couldn’t do. 

When our country was 13 colonies, the colonists wanted to establish a constitution that was not subject to the whims of men. Even though our country has grown and progressed from being 13 colonies, the government and the people, or in the following case the state's government still have disputes. Recently, the Texas government passed a law that required abortion clinics to allow doctors to admit patients to nearby hospitals and the clinics had to meet the standards of a surgical center. This cut the number of abortion clinics in half. The Supreme Court heard of the new law, and tore it down saying that “it placed an undue burden on the clinics and on the women”. They said that it was making more obstacles for abortions. Texas’ government say that their whole goal in the new law was to protect the women they were serving. Texas’ Attorney General, Ken Paxton said, “The court is becoming a default medical board for the nation, with no deference being given to state law.” What Paxton means is that the American government or Judges are ignoring and bypassing the rules set in place by legislature and the majority and making decisions based on their own thoughts and feelings. Disagreements between the people and the Government is still a very relevant issue today.

I believe the colonists were justified in declaring that the British policies violated the principles of constitutional government. They believed that they had a right to privacy, liberty, and representation. When the fathers of this country were making their basic rules, they thought that these things were so important that they had to be in writing. This is why we have the Constitution. England didn’t and still doesn’t have a constitution to set boundaries for their government. One of the main beliefs of the founders was that mankind had God given rights. Benjamin Franklin said that “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.” They believed that a constitution could help protect those rights. In England, the government was not being restricted so this allowed Parliament to take away what the people considered to be irrevocable God given rights. Today, activist judges are disregarding the state's right to self-rule and self-govern just like the English government was disregarding the colonists’ right to self-rule.