The thesis statements below come from finalists for the David W. Levy Prize for student writing in the U.S. History Survey. We have left the thesis statements in their native setting—the opening paragraph—to show that successful writers often set up their thesis claim as “arguable” by considering other possible interpretations earlier in the introduction.

This collection shows that thesis statements can take many forms. Sometimes they are short, bold declarations; sometimes they are encapsulations of the essay’s structure that take two sentences to express! In each of these examples, however, you can discern an arguable claim and some indication of how the essay will support that claim in the body paragraphs.

(We have underlined the thesis statements for your convenience; you should not underline your thesis in your submitted essay)

Survey of the Marine Corps as a Distinct Branch
Of the United States Military – 1775 to 1805
By Abigail Terselic
Levy Prize Winner, Fall ‘16[Click Here to Read Full Essay]

When the “shot heard ‘round the world” sparked the American War for Independence in 1775, the emerging American nation was rattled, but only for a moment.1 The iron will of the Colonial forces provided the foundation for unity against the British Crown. Initially, the Colonial militia did not compare to the British forces, which had a thriving mother nation backing them and a rich history in strong, successful warfare. However, as the Colonies matured in resolve, they gained support, personnel, supplies, and unity. In addition to increasing the size of the Continental army, the Continental Congress decided to create a completely new division of the armed forces, one with explicit purpose and manifest strength. Thus, two battalions of Marines originated as an elite arm of the Colonial militia. The Marines faced their first challenge in the War for Independence, as they demonstrated their unique training and abilities, fighting alongside the Continental forces. After the victorious American Revolution, the new nation maintained Marines as part of its general military force. Gradually, they were employed more and more, until they became an official branch of the United States military in 1798. A mere six years later, the Marines gained universal recognition and respect as a powerful, invaluable asset to the rising United States by their famous victory in the First Barbary War in 1805. From its first roots in 1775 to its famous victory in the First Barbary War in 1805, the US Marine Corps became known for selectivity of personnel, discipline within its ranks and the ranks of other forces, and effectiveness in eliminating enemies through amphibious assault and hand-to-hand combat, all of which set the Marine Corps apart in mission and effectiveness from every other branch of the United States armed forces.


Law and Order: Nixon’s Rhetoric and the Southern Strategy
By Audrey Hopewell
Levy Prize Winner, Spring ‘17

Today’s familiar Democratic and Republican party coalitions have not always existed; rather, they began to emerge in the 1960s as demographic and geographic groups shifted party alliances. This paper focuses on one factor in the party realignment: Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. Nixon’s 1968 campaign was characterized by a balance between appeals to conservative, anti-integration Southern white voters and the risk of alienating Northern liberals. To implement this “Southern strategy,” Nixon employed ostensibly race-neutral language that actually had coded racial meaning. This color-blind rhetoric was belied by the actions of the administration and Nixon’s rhetorical shift to the right after taking office.


The Indian Removal Act and Resulting Factions among the Cherokee Nation
By Bridgett L. Talley
Levy Prize Winner, Spring ‘16[Click Here to Read Full Essay]

On May 28, 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the forcible relocation of southern Indian tribes to the flatlands of America. While this signature only took a moment, consequences of it would change the Cherokee nation forever. Even before the Act was signed into law strong opinions on it were rampant among both American citizens and tribal members. Residents of Georgia wanted the entirety of the land in their state ceded to them; they did not see their native neighbors as friends or equals, though they were considered one of the five “civilized” tribes. The idea of Manifest Destiny aided the American opinion that they were entitled to this land despite the fact it was home to Natives. Following the legislation, many Cherokees were divided on how to proceed. This created factions within the tribe, causing hostilities between them. While a relatively small percentage agreed to make the move, most were insistent on staying in their ancestral lands. Ultimately, the Trail of Tears brought the thousands of Natives who did not agree to move west of the Mississippi involuntarily to new lands, killing many in the process and causing strained relations between the factions that had previously separated. The Indian Removal Act of the 1830s factionalized the Cherokee Nation into the Patriot Party, Treaty Party, and the Old Settlers because of conflicting land disputes in Georgia and Indian Territories.


American Terror
By Matthew O. Walters
Levy Prize Finalist, Spring ‘17

For 150 years, those that have come to call the American Civil War “the War of Northern Aggression” have cited General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea as an unnecessary act of terror; opponents claim the South would have surrendered without this show of brutality, and that what he did was completely illegal from a humanitarian perspective—they are wrong. William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea was a brutal affair, filled with what many Southerners argued to be war crimes; but, these actions can, in truth, be interpreted to have roughly followed today’s laws of war, even though they did not yet exist in Sherman’s time. War is brutal, dehumanizing, and degrading, and this campaign was simply a product of the time and a necessary evil. By examining the campaign through both Federal and Confederate accounts of the events, as well as the modern laws of war, it can be demonstrated that Sherman’s campaign was, in fact, legitimate, legal, and entirely necessary


Edward C. DeBarr: Illuminating, not Rewriting, History
Kathryn Lynn
Levy Prize Finalist, Fall ‘16[Click Here for Full Essay]

In 1982, A University of Oklahoma student initiative strove to change a building’s name after uncovering that Edwin C. DeBarr, for whom it was named, had been a grand dragon in the Ku Klux Klan. Then Oklahoma University President William S. Banowsky considered, and concluded in a Board of Regents meeting that the Chemistry Building should continue to be called DeBarr Hall. Among the president’s reasons was this: “Should he be tried twice for the same shortcoming? After the passing of half a century, it is inappropriate to attempt to re-write history. ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on; nor all piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it.'”1 Although he neglected to attribute the sentiment to Omar Khayyám, that argument might have had merit were it not for the fact that DeBarr was not being tried for the same shortcoming but a completely separate ideological issue that was simply anchored in the same historical event: the Board of Regents asking DeBarr to leave the University of Oklahoma. Two questions present themselves. Why did the Board of Regents fire DeBarr? And, why did the students object to DeBarr’s name being used for the chemistry building? Unless those two answers are the same, then President Banowsky’s logic in refusing the students’ request was flawed. Were the students of 1982 outraged that DeBarr broke with University policy? That he was involved in politics and tried to mobilize his network to elect Robert Wilson as governor? No. They objected to honoring a member of the KKK when the current student body was diverse and opposed to the brutal racism associated with the Klan. DeBarr was never tried in court, but among his peers at the University, and the reasons for his termination in the 20s had nothing to do with racism that the students of the 80s repudiated.