Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts : Reasoning, premises, purposes, and arguments in seminal U.S. texts: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.8

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Reasoning, Premises, Purposes, And Arguments In Seminal U.S. Texts: Ccss.Ela Literacy.Ri.11 12.8

Adapted from the First Inaugural Address of Thomas Jefferson (March 4th, 1801)

During the contest of opinion through which we have passed, the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety.

But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this government, the world's best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

In the context of the whole passage, what is the purpose of the bolded and underlined section?

Possible Answers:

To draw a specific distinction between the speaker and his political opponents

To encourage a spirit of unity in the United States public

To entreat the speaker's own political party to take a more human approach to the impoverished

To advocate for the speaker's partisan political positions

Correct answer:

To encourage a spirit of unity in the United States public


This question seeks to interrogate your ability to recognize the purpose of a specific selection though your understanding of the overall goal and thesis of the passage as a whole. For these types of questions it is absolutely vital that you understand the overall context, tone, and purpose of the entire excerpt before attempting to parse the purpose of the specified section of text.

In this address, Jefferson's main theme and purpose is to encourage his "fellow-citizens [to] unite with one heart and one mind." Even without historical knowledge, it should be clear throughout this passage that the country has just come out of a tumultuous election. Jefferson is looking to build unanimity between the fractured parties. In this selection, he reminds people that while the majority does rule, it is necessary to acknowledge the rights of the minority party. By so doing, he hopes to build some unanimity in the country after the tumult and disagreement of this period. While this might actually have been a partisan view at the time, at least in their tone and rhetorical purpose Jefferson's speech advocates for the adoption of unity in principle and in spirit, not as a part of any specific political program.

All Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts Resources

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