Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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The Sources of American Independence

Speech | The Town Council of Aiken, SC | 1844

            The Sources of American Independence. An Oration, on the Sixty-Ninth Anniversary of American Independence was delivered by William Gilmore Simms on 4 July 1844 in Aiken, SC.  As its long title suggests, the speech was composed to celebrate the sixty-nine years of American nationhood since the Declaration of Independence; what is unmentioned in the title but equally relevant to an understanding of this work is the fact that it was composed essentially as a stump speech[1] during Simms’s successful 1844 run for a seat in the South Carolina State Legislature.  Giving a speech on the 4th of July about American independence was a fraught task, Simms noted in his introductory remarks, because of the almost unavoidable tendency toward cliché and unexamined patriotism such talks engendered.  To avoid this pitfall, but to make his talk a suitable contribution to his campaigning efforts nonetheless, Simms contextualized the American Revolution and the subsequent development of the American independent spirit in the greater scope of European history.  While he paid due homage to America’s multi-cultural past, he concluded that in the English component of its makeup, America realized its greatest leaps forward in freedom and independence.  He declared that the historian, seeking the source of American liberty, “has but to follow the stream of English history,―for it was really the old spirit of the Anglo-Saxon, warring with his Norman tyrant, that informed the revolution of America.”[2]

            Simms was initially invited to give a speech in Aiken for the 4th of July celebrations in 1842.  This was largely in anticipation of his running for office, as his friend James Henry Hammond had been pushing him do.  The death of Simms's daughter Mary Derrille Simms that spring, though, derailed the author’s political ambitions temporarily[3].  When he finally agreed to give the oration two years later, he apparently wrote his speech rather close to the event, noting in a 30 June 1844 letter to James Lawson that he had “just written an oration for the 4th July to be delivered at Aiken.”  Though un-reviewed, the talk was well-received by its audience.  Shortly after the event, also in July 1844, James Tupper, the Intendant of the Town of Aiken, wrote to Simms on behalf of the town council to request the speech for publication.[4]   Simms warmly assented.  A little more than a month later, the lecture was “published by council”[5] in Aiken, SC and printed by Burges & James Printers of Charleston, SC.  Simms announced in a 31 July 1844 letter to Lawson that he was then reading proofs, and less than two weeks later, he mentioned to George Frederick Holmes that he had just seen the pamphlet through the press.[6]

            The printed oration appeared in a paperback, pamphlet-type booklet with a cover/title page reading:  THE SOURCES OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE. | [rule] | AN | ORATION, | ON THE | SIXTY-NINTH ANNIVERSARY | OF | AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE; | DELIVERED | AT AIKEN, SOUTH-CAROLINA, | BEFORE | THE TOWN COUNCIL AND CITIZENS THEREOF. | [rule] | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, | [rule] | AIKEN: | PUBLISHED BY COUNCIL. | MD.CCC.XLIV.  Though there were no subsequent printings, Simms bound the oration into a collection with other of his writings[7] called Orations Essays & Pamphlets.

Elizabeth Oswald

[1] Simms himself characterized it this way in a 16 June 1844 letter to James Lawson (Letters, 1:419).

[2] Simms, The Sources of American Independence, 13.

[3] Simms flatly declined making an appearance in a 30 April 1842 letter to Hammond (Letters, 1:304).

[4] The front matter of the published speech contains a “Correspondence” page that reproduces their exchange.

[5] See the title page of the published speech.

[6] See 12 August 1844 letter to Holmes (Letters, 1:428).

[7] The collection also includes, Self-Development, The Social Principle, Slavery in America, The Prima Donna, Count Julian, Atalantis (1832), and A Supplement to the Plays of William Shakespeare.