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Philip L. Carret Thomas Jefferson Essay Competition

This is a guide to the Philip L. Carret Thomas Jefferson Essay Competition. The essay competition was endowed in 1997 and was designed to have students reflect on the principles and ideals in Thomas Jefferson's life and career.

2022 Carret Essay Prompt

COVID and Smallpox: Thomas Jefferson and the Politics of Vaccination

Despite being skeptical of many medical practices in his time, Thomas Jefferson embraced experimental medicine in the fight against smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in human history. As a 23-year-old, Jefferson traveled to Philadelphia and participated in an experimental smallpox inoculation procedure. Later, as president, he defended and promoted the discovery of a smallpox vaccine despite its tepid reception by the public.

Like the smallpox vaccination campaign during Jefferson’s day, COVID vaccinations have had a slow reception in the United States. As of September 2021, 80 million eligible Americans, many of whom embrace Jefferson’s ideals such as democracy, personal liberty, and resistance to tyranny, still have not been vaccinated despite the availability of three powerful vaccines. What might Jefferson’s writings have to tell us about why people embrace or resist vaccinations, and what are the similarities and differences between American’s vaccination sentiments today and during Jefferson’s time?

2021 Essay Winners

Name Award Title
Ben Waggener First Place "Liberty in a Pandemic"
Lilly Santiago Second Place "Jefferson, the US, and Vaccination Sentiments Then and Now"
Ethan Porter Third Place "The Founding Fathers Believed in Vaccines and 42 Percent of Republicans can't believe it"