Sophia George in front of the American National Tree exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo credit: Mike DeNardo)

Sophia George in front of the American National Tree exhibit at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo credit: Mike DeNardo)

The American National Tree is one of the most popular exhibits at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Each year, students who participated in the Scholastic Awards are invited to submit essays about historical Americans who have helped shape our Constitution. The winning essay is added to the Tree and the author is given a $1,000 Maurice R. Robinson American National Tree Award and a trip to Philadelphia, PA. This year’s winner was Sophia George, a 9th-grader at Culver Academies in Culver, IN, for her essay on Thaddeus Stevens. Congratulations, Sophia!

Thaddeus Stevens, a staunch abolitionist, was a black congressman during the Civil War era. His efforts led to the end of slavery in the United States and he drafted the 14th Amendment which granted citizenship to everyone born in the United States, including the freed slaves. Sophia spoke to reporter Mike DeNardo about her decision to write about Thaddeus Stevens. “He advocated equal rights for African Americans,” she said, “and I think that that’s still a big social issue today.”

The 2015 American National Tree contest received more than 250 submissions. Students from across the country submitted essays on historical figures such as John Marshall, Victoria Woodhull, Martin Delany, and Samuel J. Tilden, as well as Thaddeus Stevens. We were impressed by the number of entries, which almost doubled from last year!

On September 17, Sophia’s essay on Thaddeus Stevens was added to the American National Tree in an induction ceremony held as part of the celebrations for National Constitution Day. “He really inspires me,” Sophia said about Thaddeus Stevens, “and I don’t think he gets any recognition at all in history.” Adding Thaddeus Stevens as a permanent leaf on the Tree will help people remember his contribution to the shaping of our country and the Constitution.

When asked about having her essay on permanent display, Sophia said, “It’s kind of like an unreal feeling. I haven’t wrapped my head around it yet!”

If you are in Philadelphia, be sure to stop by the Constitution Center and view Sophia’s essay on Thaddeus Stevens for yourself!

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