Assessment History Practice Questions

Practice Questions: American Revolutionary Era

NB: these questions might be illegal in some states.

In honor of Independence Day, here is a set of stimulus-based multiple choice questions that I use with students studying US History, both AP and on-level. Free questions.

In the passage below award-winning American Historian Alan Taylor describes the complicated relationship between slavery and the American Revolution. The text is accessible for advanced high school students, but the content may be challenging in its complexity. This complexity is an important corrective to overly simple depiction of the relationship between Englightenment ideas (which were many and varied!) and slavery.

As a complex and contradictory movement, the revolution generated proslavery as well as antislavery arguments. Abolitionists insisted on inalienable freedom and natural equality, but conservatives regarded private property rights as essential to liberty. During the mid-1780s, hundreds of Virginians petitioned their legislature against a gradual emancipation proposal as a threat to their liberty: “We risked our Lives and Fortunes, and waded through Seas of Blood” to fight a revolution meant to safeguard private property. They denounced abolitionists as covert Loyalists bent on destroying the republic: an equation promoted by the wartime alliance of runaways with British forces.

Crediting white men with courage in defeating British “Slavery,” Patriots derided their slaves as cowards dishonored for failing to win freedom. Although masters ruthlessly suppressed slave resistance, they depicted the enslaved as too passive to qualify for freedom.By denouncing slavery as degrading, republicanism could deny that the enslaved had the virtue to deserve freedom.  During the 1790s, a French visitor noted that “the American people, so excited about their own liberty, don’t consider the liberty of others.” He concluded that the revolution had increased their contempt for the enslaved …  Jefferson agreed that southerners were “zealous for their own liberties, but trampling on those of others.” Whites especially cherished their own freedom because they denied it to the enslaved.

Alan Taylor, American Revolutions, 2016, pp 464-465

1. Which of the following developments in the American Revolution was a important factor in the arguments about slavery outlined in the passage?

  1. French Revolutionaries used some ideas from the Declaration of Independence
  2. George Washington’s military leadership contributed to Patriot success
  3. Popular mobilization provided material support to the American Revolutionaries.
  4. Revolutionary leaders used Enlightenment ideas to call for resistance to Britain.

2. The contradiction that Taylor notes in the first paragraph was MOST directly reflected in which of the following developments in the decades following the Revolution?

  1. Movement of thousands of enslaved people to frontier regions
  2. Passage of gradual abolition laws in the northern states
  3. Rapid growth in the number of enslaved people in the US
  4. Restrictions imposed on free Black people by southern states

3. Which of the following statements from the first paragraph most directly supports the claim that Revolutionary ideals protected slavery?

  1. The statement that “Abolitionists insisted on inalienable freedom and natural equality”
  2. The statement that “…conservatives regarded private property rights as essential to liberty”
  3. The statement that “…hundreds of Virginians petitioned their legislature against a gradual emancipation proposal…”
  4. The statement that “They denounced abolitionists as covert Loyalists bent on destroying the republic…”

4. Which of the following best describes the author’s claim about white Patriots’ ideas of freedom in the second paragraph?

  1. White revolutionaries claims to freedom challenged gender-based social hierarchies
  2. White revolutionaries claims to freedom emphasized the inherent dignity of all people
  3. White revolutionaries claims to freedom inevitably led to support for the abolition of slavery
  4. White revolutionaries claims to freedom were based in part on subordinating Black people

5. Which of the following developments was a long-term consequence of the processes Taylor describes in the passage above?

  1. The American Civil War
  2. The Commercial Revolution
  3. The Era of Good Feeling
  4. The Indian Removal Act

I like using stimulus-based questions with students as a means of practicing close reading. I will often choose difficult texts for this when tutoring, because I will be there to help this students. I can also offer content warnings, which I would for the racist ideas cited by Taylor. In class, question like this are useful for students to work through in groups, because students can practice thinking through their questions.

By Eric Beckman

I am a veteran high school history teacher interested in decolonizing history curricula, anti-racist pedagogy, and e-learning.

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