SAT Subject US History Practice Question 942: Answer and Explanation

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Question: 942

23. "The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write."

-Frederick Douglass, 1852

Why did Douglass point out that there were laws against teaching slaves to read?

A. To show that the Southern statute books were unfair
B. To show that since only humans can read, slaves were human
C. To warn slaves that they were in danger of fines and penalties if they learned to read
D. To concede that the Southerners had control of the slaves
E. To show that the laws would not be obeyed

Correct Answer: B


The topic of the quote is whether the slave is a man. Douglass says that the existence of the laws prohibiting slaves from reading proves his point. Since laws were passed to make sure slaves could not learn to read or write, it was clear that slaves were intelligent beings, not inherently inferior to whites. He was not showing that the statute books were unfair (A); he was using the unfair laws to prove his point. He was not warning slaves (C), since the laws were directed at whites and slaves could not, by and large, pay fines. These literacy laws were not the major form of control (D) that white Southerners had over slaves. Obeying the laws (E) was not the sense of the quote. He wasn't calling for opposition to those laws. He was calling for an end to the laws supporting slavery itself.

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