Common Core: 10th Grade English Language Arts : Analyze Key Historical and Literary U.S. Texts: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.9

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Example Question #1 : Analyze Key Historical And Literary U.S. Texts: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Ri.9 10.9

Adapted from The Hypocrisy of American Slavery (1852) by Frederick Douglass

Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions. Then would my task be light and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you, that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation (Babylon) whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin.

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilant shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs and to chime in with the popular theme would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

My subject, then, fellow citizens, is "American Slavery." I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave's point of view. Standing here, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July.

The primary argument of this passage is that ________________.

Possible Answers:

the United State will never be truly free, no matter what

freedom is always a cause for celebration

slavery is wrong

celebrating freedom in a country that actively practices slavery is hypocritical

Correct answer:

celebrating freedom in a country that actively practices slavery is hypocritical


This question asks you to summarize the primary, or main, argument made in this passage. This requires that you read the entire text and analyze the overall content, and make a determination of the most fundamental point being delivered in this text.

So, let's go through the answer options one by one, first it is certainly true that the author believes slavery to be oppressive and "wrong." But is that the primary argument of his text overall? We'll have to wait to process all of the options before we really make a call on this, since it does reflect an accurate statement, but it seems likely that this option is too simple to be accurate. This is a nuanced, complex text, and the accurate idea that slavery is unjust and morally wrong is more of a given in the text, upon which the author's more complex argument is based.

The overall tone, and specific arguments about the "mournful wail" the author hears over the "tumultuous joy" of white Americans celebrating their freedom is directly at odds with the simplistic answer claiming that "freedom is always a cause for celebration." The author is actively criticizing the notion that America is celebrating certain freedoms while actively denying those very freedoms to huge numbers of people based simply on the color of their skin.

Is the author taking his critique all the way, and claiming that "America will never be free no matter what"? There is not evidence to support his option. The author does not make claims into the infinite future, rather he bemoans the unjust state of things at the time of this text.

The correct answer has pretty much already been established in our analysis of the other options. Namely, that "celebrating freedom in a country that actively practices slavery is hypocritical." The evidence of this is abundant in the passage, and it accurately reflects the nuanced, but firmly made, argument of the text.

All Common Core: 10th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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