New SAT Reading Practice Test 92: American Civilization

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Question 10 questions

Time 14 minutes

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In 1862, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered the excerpt below as part of a lecture called "American Civilization" at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

At this moment in America the aspects of
political society absorb attention. In every
house, from Canada to the Gulf, the children
ask the serious father,—"What is the news of
05 the war today? and when will there be better
times?" The boys have no new clothes, no
gifts, no journeys; the girls must go without
new bonnets; boys and girls find their education,
this year, less liberal and complete. All
10 the little hopes that heretofore made the year
pleasant are deferred. The state of the country
fills us with anxiety and stern duties. We
have attempted to hold together two states of
civilization: a higher state, where labor and
15 the tenure of land and the right of suffrage
are democratical; and a lower state, in which
the old military tenure of prisoners or slaves,
and of power and land in a few hands, makes
an oligarchy: we have attempted to hold
20 these two states of society under one law. But
the rude and early state of society does not
work well with the later, nay, works badly,
and has poisoned politics, public morals and
social intercourse in the Republic, now for
25 many years.
The times put this question,—Why cannot
the best civilization be extended over the
whole country, since the disorder of the less
civilized portion menaces the existence of
30 the country? Is this secular progress we have
described, this evolution of man to the highest
powers, only to give him sensibility, and
not to bring duties with it? Is he not to make
his knowledge practical? to stand and to
35 withstand? Is not civilization heroic also? Is
it not for action? has it not a will? … America
is another word for Opportunity. Our whole
history appears like a last effort of the Divine
Providence on behalf of the human race;
40 and a literal slavish following of precedents,
as by a justice of the peace, is not for those
who at this hour lead the destinies of this
people. The evil you contend with has taken
alarming proportions, and you still content
45 yourself with parrying the blows it aims, but,
as if enchanted, abstain from striking at the
cause. […]
Emancipation is the demand of civilization.
That is a principle; everything else is an
50 intrigue. This is a progressive policy;—puts
the whole people in healthy, productive, amiable
position,—puts every man in the South
in just and natural relations with every man
in the North, laborer with laborer.
55 The power of Emancipation is this, that
it alters the atomic social constitution of
the Southern people. Now their interest is
in keeping out white labor; then, when they
must pay wages, their interest will be to let it
60 in, to get the best labor, and, if they fear their
blacks, to invite Irish, German, and American
laborers. Thus, whilst Slavery makes and
keeps disunion, Emancipation removes the
whole objection to union. Emancipation
65 at one stroke elevates the poor white of the
South, and identifies his interest with that of
the Northern laborer. […]
The end of all political struggle is to establish
morality as the basis of all legislation. It
70 is not free institutions, 'tis not a republic, 'tis
not a democracy, that is the end,—no, but
only the means. Morality is the object of government.
We want a state of things in which
crime shall not pay. This is the consolation
75 on which we rest in the darkness of the future
and the afflictions of today, that the government
of the world is moral, and does forever
destroy what is not.

1. What is the general purpose of this passage?

  • A. To argue in favor of emancipation
  • B. To illustrate the evils of slavery
  • C. To highlight the economic problems in the South
  • D. To articulate a comprehensive theory of morality

2. What is Emerson's overall attitude toward politics?

  • A. Its practice is his great passion
  • B. It is merely a means to an end
  • C. It takes on less importance in war
  • D. It will ultimately settle the question of slavery

3. Which option gives the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 20-25 ("But the . . . years")
  • B. Lines 37-39 ("Our . . . race")
  • C. Lines 62-64 ("Thus . . . union")
  • D. Lines 69-72 ("It is . . . means")

4. Lines 6-9 ("The boys . . . complete") most clearly indicate that

  • A. interests in childhood entertainment changed greatly.
  • B. war led to a focus on the bare necessities.
  • C. children became less interested in stimulation.
  • D. emancipation was not a priority for the young.

5. As used in line 12, the word "stern" most closely means

  • A. playful.
  • B. terrifying.
  • C. serious.
  • D. pointless.

6. What is the purpose of the questions in lines 26-36?

  • A. To rhetorically emphasize a need for action
  • B. To encourage readers' intellectual curiosity
  • C. To critique the reasoning given in the previous paragraph
  • D. To summarize the thoughts of Emerson's mentor

7. Emerson frames the philosophical struggle underlying the nation's conflict as one between

  • A. geographical needs versus international recognition.
  • B. monetary concerns versus political considerations.
  • C. traditional precedent versus moral necessity.
  • D. skeptical questioning versus pious obedience.

8. Which option gives the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 1-6 ("At this . . . times")
  • B. Lines 9-11 ("All . . . deferred")
  • C. Lines 37-43 ("Our whole . . . people")
  • D. Lines 57-62 ("Now . . . laborers")

9. As used in line 40, the word "following" most closely means

  • A. ensuing.
  • B. succeeding.
  • C. resulting.
  • D. obeying.

10. What option best summarizes the paragraph in lines 56-67?

  • A. Emancipation will lead to the political dominance of European immigrants.
  • B. Emancipation will ensure an equitable redistribution of income across the races.
  • C. An end to slavery will cause the Southern Constitution to be amended.
  • D. An end to slavery will realign Southern economic interests in favor of union.