GED Social Studies : Historical Context

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for GED Social Studies

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Example Questions

Example Question #9 : Making Connections

The following question refers to the information contained in this passage.

Shays’ Rebellion was an armed uprising in Massachusetts, which many historians have claimed dramatically altered the direction of American political history. Shays’ Rebellion took place in the dying months of the Articles of Confederation and ended right as the Constitutional Convention was beginning. It was already clear to many of America’s leading political figures that the Articles of Confederation were too limited and too ineffective to be the primary governing document of a strong modern nation. Shays’ Rebellion only served to further highlight the need to place more power in the hands of the Federal government.

The national government was incapable of raising funds or militia forces to meet the threat of the uprising and was reliant on the good will of the various states. This situation troubled many of the Founding Fathers, George Washington in particular, who demanded that this situation be remedied in the United States Constitution to prevent such an uprising from happening again. Only Thomas Jefferson felt unthreatened by the events of Shays’ Rebellion—which might have been because he was in France on diplomatic work at the time. Jefferson argued that a little rebellion from time to time is healthy for a republic, famously commenting that the tree of liberty occasionally needs to be watered with the blood of tyrants.

Why was Thomas Jefferson primarily more comfortable with Shays’ Rebellion than the other Constitutional Framers?

Possible Answers:

Because Jefferson hated the Articles of Confederation and wanted to see them discarded.

Because he believed that small rebellions were an important part of a young Republic.

Because he lived in Virginia, not Massachusetts.

Because he was out of the country.

Because his economic interests were served by the Rebellion.

Correct answer:

Because he believed that small rebellions were an important part of a young Republic.

Explanation:

There are two possible answer choices here based on the essay, you are asked to choose which one of them is more important. You might answer that Jefferson was comfortable with Shays’ Rebellion because he was out of the country. After all, the author does say that "only Thomas Jefferson felt unthreatened by the events of Shays’ Rebellion—which might have been because he was in France on diplomatic work at the time," but this seems more of an offhand humorous comment rather than an explanation of his primary argument. Immediately afterwards the author summarizes Jefferson’s opinions far more seriously when he says that "Jefferson argued that a little rebellion from time to time is healthy for a republic."

Example Question #1 : Historical Context

Adapted from A Short History of the United States by Edward Channing (1908)

In the seventeenth century, the geography of America was very little understood in Europe, and the persons who drew up colonial charters understood it least of all. Charter lines frequently overlapped and were often very indistinct. This was particularly true of the Maryland and Pennsylvania boundaries. Penn and Baltimore tried to come to an agreement, but they never could agree. Years afterward, when they were both dead, their heirs agreed to have a line drawn without much regard to the charters. This line was finally surveyed by two English engineers, Mason and Dixon, and is always called after their names. It is the present boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland. In colonial days, it separated the colonies where slavery was the rule from those where labor was generally free. In the first half of the nineteenth century, it separated the free states from the slave states. Mason and Dixon's line, therefore, has been a famous line in the history of the United States.

Throughout American history, the Mason-Dixon line has served as the de facto border between __________.

Possible Answers:

the North and the South

the territory of Penn and Baltimore and the territory of other people

the United States of America and Canada

the territory of the original colonies and territory gained later

colonial land and Native American land

Correct answer:

the North and the South

Explanation:

The passage says that at various points in American history, the Mason-Dixon line has served as the border between the territory of Penn and the territory of Baltimore, as well as the boundary between slave states and free states. From this information, you can infer that the correct answer is therefore that it has served as the de facto border between "the North and the South."

Example Question #2 : Historical Context

Adapted from A Short History of the United States (1908) by Edward Channing.

The war was over. But the future of the American nation was still uncertain. Indeed, one can hardly say that there was an American nation in 1783. While the war lasted, a sense of danger bound together the people of the different states. But as soon as this peril ceased, their old jealousies and self-seekings came back. There was no national government to smooth over these differences and to compel the states to act justly toward one another. There was, indeed, the Congress of the Confederation, but it is absurd to speak of it as a national government.

The Continental Congress began drawing up the Articles of Confederation in June, 1776. But there were long delays, and each month's delay made it more impossible to form a strong government. It fell out in this way that the Congress of the Confederation had no real power. It could not make a state or an individual pay money or do anything at all. In the course of a few years, Congress asked the states to give it over six million dollars to pay the debts and expenses of the United States. It received about a million dollars and was fortunate to get that.

Based on this text, what was the primary problem with the Articles of Confederation? 

Possible Answers:

It encouraged the states to fight wars between one another. 

It led to a decline in democratic principles in the infant United States. 

The national government spent too much money on the military. 

The national government had no authority over the states. 

None of these answers is correct; the author believes the Articles of Confederation had no major problems. 

Correct answer:

The national government had no authority over the states. 

Explanation:

The author notes that "it fell out in this way that the Congress of the Confederation had no real power. It could not make a state or an individual pay money or do anything at all." So, the national government cannot make the states do things and has "no real power;" therefore, the correct answer is that "the national government had no authority over the states."

Example Question #3 : Historical Context

Adapted from A Short History of the United States (1908) by Edward Channing.

There were no political parties in the United States in 1789. All the leading men were anxious to give the new Constitution a fair trial. Even Patrick Henry supported Washington. Many men believed a monarchy to be the best form of government. But they saw clearly that the American people would not permit a monarchy to be established. So they supported the Constitution although they thought that it was "a frail and worthless fabric." But they wished to establish the strongest possible government that could be established under the Constitution. This they could do by defining in the broadest way the doubtful words in the Constitution as Hamilton had done in the controversy over the bank charter. Hamilton had little confidence in the wisdom of the plain people. He believed it would be safer to rely on the richer classes. So he and his friends wished to give to the central government and to the richer classes the greatest possible amount of power. Those who believed as Hamilton believed called themselves Federalists. In reality they were Nationalists.

Alexander Hamilton would have favored which system of government? 

Possible Answers:

Monarchy

Representative democracy

Direct democracy

Theocracy

Autocracy

Correct answer:

Monarchy

Explanation:

The author notes that "Many men believed a monarchy to be the best form of government," but the author does not mention, specifically, that Hamilton was one of these "many men." Instead, he tells you this later in the passage by describing how Hamilton did not trust the common man to make wise democratic decisions and that Hamilton favored a strong central government ruled over by the wealthy. It is clear from context that Hamilton would have been one of the "many men" who favored establishing a monarchy in the United States. 

Example Question #4 : Historical Context

Adapted from A Short History of the United States (1908) by Edward Channing.

There were no political parties in the United States in 1789. All the leading men were anxious to give the new Constitution a fair trial. Even Patrick Henry supported Washington. Many men believed a monarchy to be the best form of government. But they saw clearly that the American people would not permit a monarchy to be established. So they supported the Constitution although they thought that it was "a frail and worthless fabric." But they wished to establish the strongest possible government that could be established under the Constitution. This they could do by defining in the broadest way the doubtful words in the Constitution as Hamilton had done in the controversy over the bank charter. Hamilton had little confidence in the wisdom of the plain people. He believed it would be safer to rely on the richer classes. So he and his friends wished to give to the central government and to the richer classes the greatest possible amount of power. Those who believed as Hamilton believed called themselves Federalists. In reality they were Nationalists.

Based on the text what do you think was the major disagreement that led to the formation of the first two political parties? 

Possible Answers:

Which economic principles should be encouraged

The relationship between America and the major European powers of France and England

The level of spending on the American military

How strong the national government should be

The level of taxation

Correct answer:

How strong the national government should be

Explanation:

The author tells us that "But they [Hamilton and his supporters] wished to establish the strongest possible government that could be established under the Constitution." He also tells us that "Those who believed as Hamilton believed called themselves Federalists." You should know from your American history knowledge that the first two American political parties were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. It seems reasonable to conclude from this text that the original political parties in America were established over the disagreement of how strong and centralized the power of the national government should be. 

Example Question #5 : Historical Context

Adapted from Independent Bohemia by Vladimir Nosek (1918)

The Czechs freely elected the Habsburgs to the throne of Bohemia, which remained a fully independent state, its alliance with Austria and Hungary being purely dynastic. But soon the Habsburgs began to violate the liberties of Bohemia that they were bound by oath to observe, and this led finally to the fateful Czech revolution of 1618. At the battle of the White Mountain in 1620, the Czechs suffered a defeat and were cruelly punished for their rebellion. All their nobility were either executed or sent into exile, and their property confiscated. The country was devastated by the imperial hordes, and its population was reduced from 3,000,000 to 800,000 during the Thirty Years' War.

In 1627 Ferdinand II greatly curtailed the administrative rights of Bohemia, yet he did not dare to deprive her entirely of her independence. In his "Renewed Ordinance of the Land," Ferdinand declared the Bohemian crown to be hereditary in the House of Habsburg, and reserved legislative power to the sovereign. But otherwise the historical rights of Bohemia remained valid, notwithstanding all subsequent arbitrary centralizing measures taken by the Habsburgs. Bohemia's rights were repeatedly recognized by each succeeding Habsburg. Legally, Bohemia is an independent state today.

During the Thirty Years' War, the population of Bohemia __________.

Possible Answers:

fell slightly

grew slightly

fell dramatically

remained the same

grew dramatically

Correct answer:

fell dramatically

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to read the passage carefully. At the end of the first paragraph, you are told that Bohemia "was devastated by the imperial hordes, and its population was reduced from 3,000,000 to 800,000 during the Thirty Years' War." This is a significant decline in population, so the correct answer is the population "fell dramatically" during the Thirty Years' War.

Example Question #6 : Historical Context

Adapted from Independent Bohemia by Vladimir Nosek (1918)

The Czechs freely elected the Habsburgs to the throne of Bohemia, which remained a fully independent state, its alliance with Austria and Hungary being purely dynastic. But soon the Habsburgs began to violate the liberties of Bohemia that they were bound by oath to observe, and this led finally to the fateful Czech revolution of 1618. At the battle of the White Mountain in 1620, the Czechs suffered a defeat and were cruelly punished for their rebellion. All their nobility were either executed or sent into exile, and their property confiscated. The country was devastated by the imperial hordes, and its population was reduced from 3,000,000 to 800,000 during the Thirty Years' War.

In 1627 Ferdinand II greatly curtailed the administrative rights of Bohemia, yet he did not dare to deprive her entirely of her independence. In his "Renewed Ordinance of the Land," Ferdinand declared the Bohemian crown to be hereditary in the House of Habsburg, and reserved legislative power to the sovereign. But otherwise the historical rights of Bohemia remained valid, notwithstanding all subsequent arbitrary centralizing measures taken by the Habsburgs. Bohemia's rights were repeatedly recognized by each succeeding Habsburg. Legally, Bohemia is an independent state today.

The Battle of White Mountain occurred during __________.

Possible Answers:

The Czech Revolution

The War of Austrian Succession

The Thirty Years' War

It is impossible to say based on the passage alone.

The First World War

Correct answer:

The Czech Revolution

Explanation:

In context, the discussion of the Czech defeat at the Battle of White Mountain occurs in the part of the passage where the author is talking about the Czech revolution. He says, "At the battle of the White Mountain in 1620, the Czechs suffered a defeat and were cruelly punished for their rebellion."

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