Lincoln Essay Competition



The 1776 Declaration of Independence proclaims:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

In 1858, while running for the US Senate, Abraham Lincoln implored listeners to return to the founding document:

…if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence; if you have listened to suggestions which would take away from its grandeur, and mutilate the fair symmetry of its proportions; if you have been inclined to believe that all men are not created equal in those inalienable rights enumerated by our chart of liberty, let me entreat you to come back. (August 17, 1958; Lewiston, Illinois)

PROMPT 2021:

Now, in 2021, we ask you to focus on “the unalienable rights” in the Declaration by answering the following prompt:

Choose one issue that you think demonstrates how our nation either is or is not honoring the ideal that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Give three examples to support your position. Finally, suggest one step that could either further strengthen our course or get our nation back on track and explain why this step would be effective.

*PLEASE NOTE: 2021 LEC competition has closed. Winners have been announced. CLICK HERE for 2021's winners.

CLICK HERE, for LEC 2021 TEACHER packet
CLICK HERE, for LEC 2021 STUDENT packet


This is our first time accepting submissions via email. We have received some good questions from teachers and we’d like to share our responses with everyone with the hope of making the process as smooth as possible for everyone.

Regarding submitting entries via email:

1. If you, as the teacher, are submitting one or more submissions via email, please include each student’s application form and essay as individual attachments. This means that you will name each attachment with the student’s name, but you will NOT combine them into pdfs. (ie. “D.Jones, LEC app” and “D.Jones, LEC essay”) This is because the staff who receive the materials need to be able to correlate them in order to assign them numbers and then to separate them from their applications so that only the essays (which the staff will print) go on to the judges without the application forms.

2. If the student is doing this on his/her/their own, they should follow the same guidelines.

Regarding whether to choose email or mail:

We would prefer that students and teachers choose which avenue they want to use for submission and not use both, so as to lessen confusion with duplicate submissions. If it happens that a student or teacher submits an essay via email, but is putting the application in the mail or emailing it later, they should absolutely indicate that the other piece is coming and indicate whether that will be via email or mail. We would greatly prefer, however, that they not be coming to us separately.

All submissions via email will get a response. If the submission is incomplete, we will list what is still missing.

Teachers: If you cannot physically sign the application forms because your students are attending class remotely, you may send an email to listing the students whose submissions are coming to us separately, along with your attestation that the work is indeed theirs.

Regarding the checklist on the back of the application form:

As long as the student has signed the pledge on the front of the application form which attests to their having completed that checklist, there is no need to include it with their submission.

How do I fill out the application form and submit it from home?

· Print out just the application page of the packet (that would be page 7 of the student package)

· Fill out all the information as legibly as possible

· Sign it and have a guardian/parent sign it, including email and phone numbers

· Where the teacher’s signature is, write “My teacher will be sending an email confirming that my work has been my own.” Please also include the name and email address of your teacher – and a phone number, if you have one (the school’s number). Make sure you have communicated with your teacher so that they know to send an email confirming your participation.

· Scan it, and send it as a pdf.

· If scanning is not an option, take a photo and upload that. Be sure that we can read all the information you included.

· Name that upload with your first initial and last name, ie. “D_Jones_LEC_app”

· Attach that along with your essay which will be a separate attachment, ie, “D_Jones_LEC_essay”

· So you will attach two pdfs (not one) · do not submit to Programming Director, but rather send them to

If you cannot print the application form, you can provide all the information we ask for in the application form by creating your own simple document and saving it as a PDF. In addition to all the contact information: copy out the Student Pledge and sign it, copy out the Parent/Guardian Pledge and get that signed, and then submit the document as explained above.



For the past fourteen years, Hildene has administered the Lincoln Essay Competition informed by our mission: Values into Action. Using Abraham Lincoln’s legacy as touchstone, Hildene seeks to inspire young people to tackle important issues, underscoring the responsibility each of us has to help make our world a better place. The competition is open to all eighth graders in the state of Vermont, whether they enter as part of a class assignment or on their own. Essays are judged on the student’s understanding of the subject, as well as by their ability to convey that understanding through good writing.

The inspiration and prompt change yearly, and are published in late November/early December, along with instructions for applying, rules, guidelines, tips and a sample assessment rubric. The Lincoln Essay Competition supports 8th Grade Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts Literacy in Writing.

The competition is judged in four regions. Home-schooled students are encouraged to enter, and will be judged as a member of the region in which they reside. Judges come from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, geographical locations, vocations, religions, genders, etc., and include a mix of new and repeat judges every year.  The judges never see anything that identifies the student, their address or the school they attend.

Winners receive certificates, and cash prizes. Each region has a first, second, and third place winner. Honorable Mentions are by discretion. We emphasize to all students and their educators that the most important aspect of the competition is the process of examining a tough issue and endeavoring to articulate a well thought-out and compelling response to it. We commend all participants who show their best effort in offering genuine responses under the very particular expectations and standards of Hildene’s 8th Grade Lincoln Essay Competition.


To view 2019/2020's "Announcement of Winners", click HERE

To view a compilation of student-submitted readings of the 2020 winning essays, please click HERE. Many thanks go out to this year's students, their families, caregivers, and teachers, for the great work they put in to presenting themselves to the wider audience - it is a joy to have the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas in this way!

2021 Lincoln Essay Competition Winners

2020 Lincoln Essay Competition Winners

2020 Lincoln Essay Competition First Place Essays

2019 Lincoln Essay Competition Winners