U.S. History and Politics Critical Reading Practice Exercises Set 1

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Updated on Sep 27, 2011

U.S. History and Politics Critical Reading

Questions 1–4 are based on the following passage.

The following passage discusses the Supreme Court's power of judicial review, a practice first invoked in the historical 1803 Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison.

"It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is," stated Chief Justice John Marshall in a unanimous opinion in the 1803 Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison. This landmark case established the doctrine of judicial review, which gives the court the authority to declare executive actions and laws invalid if they conflict with the U.S. Constitution. The court's ruling on the constitutionality of a law is nearly final—it can only be overcome by a constitutional amendment or by a new ruling of the court. Through the power of judicial review, the court shapes the development of law, assures individual rights, and maintains the Constitution as a "living" document by applying its broad provisions to complex new situations.

Despite the court's role in interpreting the Constitution, the document itself does not grant this authority to the court. However, it is clear that several of the founding fathers expected the Court to act in this way. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison argued for the importance of judicial review in the Federalist Papers, a series of 85 political essays that urged the adoption of the Constitution. Hamilton argued that judicial review protected the will of the people by making the Constitution supreme over the legislature, which might only reflect the temporary will of the people. Madison wrote that if a public political process determined the constitutionality of laws, the Constitution would become fodder for political interests and partisanship. However, the practice of judicial review was, and continues to be, a controversial power because it gives justices—who are appointed rather than elected by the people—the authority to void legislation made by Congress and state lawmakers.

  1. The passage suggests that the practice of judicial review allows the court to
    1. wield enormous power.
    2. determine foreign policy.
    3. make laws that reflect the principles of the Constitution.
    4. rewrite laws that are unconstitutional.
    5. make amendments to the Constitution.
  2. The image of the Constitution as a "living" document (lines 10 and 11) implies that
    1. the supreme law of the land cannot be altered in any way.
    2. it can only be amended through a difficult process.
    3. its principles need to be adapted to contemporary life.
    4. the original document is fragile and needs to be preserved in the Library of Congress so that it will not deteriorate.
    5. it will die if it is interpreted by the court.
  3. In line 5, declare most nearly means
    1. narrate.
    2. recite.
    3. proclaim.
    4. predict.
    5. acknowledge.
  4. The last sentence (lines 23–26) in the passage provides
    1. a specific example supporting the argument made earlier.
    2. a summary of the points made earlier.
    3. an explanation of the positions made earlier.
    4. a prediction based on the argument made earlier.
    5. a counter-argument to the views referred to earlier.

Questions 5–8 are based on the following passage.

In the following passage, the author gives an account of the development of the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln's 1863 executive order abolishing slavery in the Confederate States of America.

Almost from the beginning of his administration, Lincoln was pressured by abolitionists and radical Republicans to issue an Emancipation Proclamation. In principle, Lincoln approved, but he postponed action against slavery until he believed he had wider support from the American public. The passage of the Second Confiscation Act by Congress on July 17, 1862, which freed the slaves of everyone in rebellion against the government, provided the desired signal. Not only had Congress relieved the Administration of considerable strain with its limited initiative on emancipation, it demonstrated an increasing public abhorrence toward slavery. Lincoln had already drafted what he termed his "Preliminary Proclamation." He read his initial draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to Secretaries William H. Seward and Gideon Welles on July 13, 1862. For a moment, both secretaries were speechless. Quickly collecting his thoughts, Seward said something about anarchy in the South and possible foreign intervention, but with Welles apparently too confused to respond, Lincoln let the matter drop.

Nine days later, on July 22, Lincoln raised the issue in a regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting. The reaction was mixed. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, correctly interpreting the Proclamation as a military measure designed both to deprive the Confederacy of slave labor and bring additional men into the Union Army, advocated its immediate release. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase was equally supportive, but Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General, foresaw defeat in the fall elections. Attorney General Edward Bates, a conservative, opposed civil and political equality for blacks but gave his qualified support. Fortunately, President Lincoln only wanted the advice of his Cabinet on the style of the Proclamation, not its substance. The course was set. The Cabinet meeting of September 22, 1862, resulted in the political and literary refinement of the July draft, and on January 1, 1863, Lincoln composed the final Emancipation Proclamation. It was the crowning achievement of his administration.

  1. The passage suggests which of the following about Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation?
    1. Abolitionists did not support such an executive order.
    2. The draft proclamation was unanimously well-received by Lincoln's cabinet.
    3. Congressional actions influenced Lincoln and encouraged him to issue it.
    4. The proclamation was not part of a military strategy.
    5. The first draft needed to be edited because Lincoln made numerous grammatical errors.
  2. The description of the reaction of Secretaries Seward and Welles to Lincoln's draft proclamation in lines 13–16 is used to illustrate
    1. Lincoln's lack of political acumen.
    2. that Lincoln's advisors did not anticipate his plan.
    3. the incompetence of Lincoln's advisors.
    4. Seward and Welles' disappointment that Lincoln did not free all slaves at that time.
    5. that most members of Lincoln's administration were abolitionists.
  3. In lines 26 and 27, qualified most nearly means
    1. adept.
    2. capable.
    3. certified.
    4. eligible.
    5. limited.
  4. The author's attitude to the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation is one of
    1. informed appreciation.
    2. reluctant admiration.
    3. ambiguous acceptance.
    4. conflicted disapproval.
    5. personal dislike.

Questions 9–12 are based on the following passage.

The following passage describes the medium of political cartoons as a graphic means of commenting on contemporary social or political issues.

A mainstay of American newspapers since the early nineteenth century, political cartoons use graphic art to comment on current events in a way that will inform, amuse, provoke, poke, and persuade readers. Cartoons take on the principal issues and leaders of the day, skewering hypocritical or corrupt politicians and depicting the ridiculous, the ironic, or the serious nature of a major event in a single, deftly drawn image. Cartoons use few words, if any, to convey their message. Some use caricature, a technique in which a cartoonist exaggerates the features of well known people to make fun of them. (Think of renderings of Bill Clinton with a nose redder than Rudolph's and swollen out of proportion, or cartoons of George W. Bush's exaggerated pointy visage sporting a ten-gallon cowboy hat.)

Because they have the ability to evoke an emotional response in readers, political cartoons can serve as a vehicle for swaying public opinion and can contribute to reform. Thomas Nast (1840–1902), the preeminent political cartoonist of the second half of the nineteenth century, demonstrated the power of his medium when he used his art to end the corrupt Boss Tweed Ring in New York City. His images, first drawn for Harper's Weekly, are still in currency today: Nast created the tiger as the symbol of Tammany Hall, the elephant for the Republican Party, and the donkey for the Democratic Party. Created under tight deadlines for ephemeral, commercial formats like newspapers and magazines, cartoons still manage to have lasting influence. Although they tackle the principal issues and leaders of their day, they often provide a vivid historical picture for generations to come.

  1. The author would most likely agree with which statement?
    1. Political cartoons are a powerful means of influencing the public.
    2. The more mean-spirited a political cartoon is, the more effective.
    3. Political cartoonists must maintain their objectivity on controversial subjects.
    4. Political cartoons cater to an elite class of intellectuals.
    5. Because of their relevance to current affairs, political cartoons rarely serve as historical documents.
  2. In describing the art of political cartooning in the first paragraph, the author's tone can be best described as
    1. sober.
    2. earnest.
    3. critical.
    4. impartial.
    5. playful.
  3. In line 14, vehicle most nearly means
    1. automobile.
    2. carrier.
    3. tunnel.
    4. outlet.
    5. means.
  4. The author cites Thomas Nast's depiction of an elephant for the Republican Party (lines 20–21) as an example of
    1. an image that is no longer recognized by the public.
    2. the saying "the pen is mightier than the sword."
    3. art contributing to political reform.
    4. a graphic image that became an enduring symbol.
    5. the ephemeral naature of political cartooning.

Questions 13–20 are based on the following passage.

Beginning in the 1880s, southern states and municipalities established statutes called Jim Crow laws that legalized segregation between blacks and whites. The following passage is concerned with the fight against racial discrimination and segregation and the struggle for justice for African Americans in post-World War II United States.

The post-World War II era marked a period of unprecedented energy against the second-class citizenship accorded to African Americans in many parts of the nation. Resistance to racial segregation and discrimination with strategies like those described above—civil disobedience, nonviolent resistance, marches, protests, boycotts, "freedom rides," and rallies—received national attention as newspaper, radio, and television reporters and cameramen documented the struggle to end racial inequality.

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama, and was arrested in December 1955, she set off a train of events that generated a momentum the civil rights movement had never before experienced. Local civil rights leaders were hoping for such an opportunity to test the city's segregation laws. Deciding to boycott the buses, the African American community soon formed a new organization to supervise the boycott, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was chosen as the first MIA leader. The boycott, more successful than anyone hoped, led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregated buses.

In 1960, four black freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro strolled into the F. W. Woolworth store and quietly sat down at the lunch counter. They were not served, but they stayed until closing time. The next morning they came with twenty-five more students. Two weeks later similar demonstrations had spread to several cities, within a year similar peaceful demonstrations took place in over a hundred cities North and South. At Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, the students formed their own organization, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced "Snick"). The students' bravery in the face of verbal and physical abuse led to integration in many stores even before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The August 28, 1963, March on Washington riveted the nation's attention. Rather than the anticipated hundred thousand marchers, more than twice that number appeared, astonishing even its organizers. Blacks and whites, side by side, called on President John F. Kennedy and the Congress to provide equal access to public facilities, quality education, adequate employment, and decent housing for African Americans. During the assembly at the Lincoln Memorial, the young preacher who had led the successful Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a stirring message with the refrain, "I Have a Dream."

There were also continuing efforts to legally challenge segregation through the courts. Success crowned these efforts: the Brown decision in 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 helped bring about the demise of the entangling web of legislation that bound blacks to second class citizenship. One hundred years after the Civil War, blacks and their white allies still pursued the battle for equal rights in every area of American life. While there is more to achieve in ending discrimination, major milestones in civil rights laws are on the books for the purpose of regulating equal access to public accommodations, equal justice before the law, and equal employment, education, and housing opportunities. African Americans have had unprecedented openings in many fields of learning and in the arts. The black struggle for civil rights also inspired other liberation and rights movements, including those of Native Americans, Latinos, and women, and African Americans have lent their support to liberation struggles in Africa.

  1. The passage is primarily concerned with
    1. enumerating the injustices that African Americans faced.
    2. describing the strategies used in the struggle for civil rights.
    3. showing how effective sit-down strikes can be in creating change.
    4. describing the nature of discrimination and second class citizenship.
    5. recounting the legal successes of the civil rights movement.
  2. The author cites the example of Rosa Parks (lines 9–10) refusing to relinquish her bus seat in order to
    1. demonstrate the accidental nature of political change.
    2. show a conventional response to a common situation.
    3. describe a seminal event that influenced a larger movement.
    4. portray an outcome instead of a cause.
    5. give a detailed account of what life was like in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.
  3. In line 13, the word test most nearly means
    1. analyze.
    2. determine.
    3. prove.
    4. quiz.
    5. challenge.
  4. The passage suggests that the college students in Greensboro, North Carolina (lines 21–27)
    1. were regulars at the Woolworth lunch counter.
    2. wanted to provoke a violent reaction.
    3. were part of an ongoing national movement of lunch-counter demonstrations.
    4. inspired other students to protest peacefully against segregation.
    5. did not plan to create a stir.
  5. The passage implies that the 1963 March on Washington
    1. resulted in immediate legislation prohibiting segregation in public accommodations.
    2. was a successful demonstration that drew attention to its causes.
    3. was overshadowed by the rousing speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    4. represented only the attitudes of a fringe group.
    5. reflected unanimous public opinion that segregation laws must end.
  6. The term refrain as it is used in line 42 most nearly means
    1. song lyric.
    2. allegory.
    3. recurring phrase.
    4. poem stanza.
    5. aria.
  7. The term second class citizenship (line 47) most nearly refers to
    1. native or naturalized people who do not owe allegiance to a government.
    2. foreign-born people who wish to become a citizen of a new country.
    3. those who deny the rights and privileges of a free person.
    4. having inferior status and rights in comparison to other citizens.
    5. having inferior status and rights under a personal sovereign.
  8. All of the following questions can be explicitly answered on the basis of the passage EXCEPT
    1. What are some of the barriers African Americans faced in postwar America?
    2. What tangible achievements did the civil rights movement attain?
    3. What judicial rulings are considered milestones in the struggle for civil rights?
    4. What strategies did civil rights protesters use to provoke political change?
    5. What hurtles remain today for ending racial discrimination in the United States?
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