Common Core: 11th Grade English Language Arts : Analyze complex sets of ideas or sequences: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.3

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Example Question #2 : Reading: Informational Text

Adapted from “Federalist No.19” in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (1788)

Among the confederacies of antiquity, the most considerable was that of the Grecian republics, associated under the Amphictyonic council. From the best accounts transmitted of this celebrated institution, it bore a very instructive analogy to the present Confederation of the American States. The members retained the character of independent and sovereign states, and had equal votes in the federal council. This council had a general authority to propose and resolve whatever it judged necessary for the common welfare of Greece; to declare and carry on war; to decide, in the last resort, all controversies between the members; to fine the aggressing party; to employ the whole force of the confederacy against the disobedient; and to admit new members.

The Amphictyons were the guardians of religion, and of the immense riches belonging to the temple of Delphos, where they had the right of jurisdiction in controversies between the inhabitants and those who came to consult the oracle. As a further provision for the efficacy of the federal powers, they took an oath mutually to defend and protect the united cities, to punish the violators of this oath, and to inflict vengeance on sacrilegious despoilers of the temple.

In theory, and upon paper, this apparatus of powers seems amply sufficient for all general purposes. In several material instances, they exceed the powers enumerated in the Articles of Confederation. The Amphictyons had in their hands the superstition of the times, one of the principal engines by which government was then maintained; they had a declared authority to use coercion against refractory cities, and were bound by oath to exert this authority on the necessary occasions.

Very different, nevertheless, was the experiment from the theory. The powers, like those of the present Congress, were administered by deputies appointed wholly by the cities in their political capacities, and exercised over them in the same capacities. Hence the weakness, the disorders, and finally the destruction of the confederacy. The more powerful members, instead of being kept in awe and subordination, tyrannized successively over all the rest. Athens, as we learn from Demosthenes, was the arbiter of Greece seventy-three years. The Lacedaemonians next governed it twenty-nine years; at a subsequent period, after the battle of Leuctra, the Thebans had their turn of domination. It happened but too often, according to Plutarch, that the deputies of the strongest cities awed and corrupted those of the weaker; and that judgment went in favor of the most powerful party. Even in the midst of defensive and dangerous wars with Persia and Macedon, the members never acted in concert, and were, more or fewer of them, eternally the dupes or the hirelings of the common enemy. The intervals of foreign war were filled up by domestic vicissitudes, convulsions, and carnage.

After the conclusion of the war with Xerxes, it appears that the Lacedaemonians required that a number of the cities should be turned out of the confederacy for the unfaithful part they had acted. The Athenians, finding that the Lacedaemonians would lose fewer partisans by such a measure than themselves, and would become masters of the public deliberations, vigorously opposed and defeated the attempt. This piece of history proves at once the inefficiency of the union, the ambition and jealousy of its most powerful members, and the dependent and degraded condition of the rest. The smaller members, though entitled by the theory of their system to revolve in equal pride and majesty around the common center, had become, in fact, satellites of the orbs of primary magnitude.

Had the Greeks, says the Abbe Milot, been as wise as they were courageous, they would have been admonished by experience of the necessity of a closer union, and would have availed themselves of the peace which followed their success against the Persian arms to establish such a reformation. Instead of this obvious policy, Athens and Sparta, inflated with the victories and the glory they had acquired, became first rivals and then enemies, and did each other infinitely more mischief than they had suffered from Xerxes. Their mutual jealousies, fears, hatreds, and injuries ended in the celebrated Peloponnesian war, which itself ended in the ruin and slavery of the Athenians who had begun it.

What key rhetorical contrast does the author use to structure his discussion of the Amphictyons?

Possible Answers:

A contrast between the Amphictyons and the Persians as cultures

A contrast between theory and practice

A contrast between religious and secular law-making

A contrast between the Amphictyons and Americans

Correct answer:

A contrast between theory and practice


This question is interrogating the reader's ability to recognize stylistic and rhetorical features within a passage. Now, the question asks you which rhetorical contrast is used to structure the analogical example of the Amphictyons, and here an understanding of the nature of rhetorical structures can help you. Two of the answer choices discuss contrasts between the Amphictyons and other cultures, Americans and Persians, which is inherently a weaker, less rhetorically effective structure. Since, the discussion of the Greek republics is being used as a "very instructive analogy," it makes sense to look past a literal (and almost certainly oversimplified) direct contrast between the whole of one culture and the whole of another. Analogies are metaphorical tools, and so it makes sense that the contrast structuring the example of the Amphictyons would not be so strictly literal, that it would relate to a larger thematic concept with a direct application to the contemporary climate of American political thinking to which the author is contributing.

So, we are left with two options: a contrast between theory and practice and a contrast between religious and secular law-making. The Amphictyons are said to have been "the guardians of religion," and a good deal of their political power is said to be dependent on and devoted to their ability to "inflict vengeance on the sacrilegious despoilers of the temple" they are charged with protecting. Now, if we were being extremely hasty, we might rush right into making a choice, but how wrong we would be. In order for a contrast to be in play we must also see evidence of the other end of this spectrum, secular law-making. The description of the Amphictyons makes no mention of any kind of secularity, so the contrast cannot exist, as we cannot find evidence to support one end of that contrast. 

Also, there is ample evidence to support all elements of the correct answer.  The author tells us that "In theory, and upon paper this apparatus seems amply sufficient," implying with the use of seems that it is not. The rest of the example then demonstrates how "very different [...] was the experiment from the theory." Here, "experiment" is being used to mean "practice." This answer is also the best as it presents the clearest allegorical lesson for the political thinkers of the United States, in setting down the laws of a nation they must be careful to attend to the practical realities of ruling and the cooperation of different regions and levels of government, not just the theoretical side of law-making.

All Common Core: 11th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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