Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 6: No 2) >> 1998 Simms Research Professor's Remarks >> Page 38

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Page 38

Secondary Scholarship | 1998
Transcription moral) and Southern systems of capital, labor, value, and worth that could not be
gained over thirty years of piecemeal study and limited publication. And so for
this opportunity I am truly grateful, and I hope that when the project is finished it
will be worthy of the confidence placed in me by so many.
This summer, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Dixiecrat party and
Senator Strom Thurmond's presidential bid, the Senator was quoted to have said
of his 1948 stance on racial segregation, that at that time "it was the law and the
custom, and [he] was acting within the law and the custom" [State Record quoted
from memory]. But as the newspaper also pointed out, once the law and the
custom had changed, Thurmond was the first Southern Senator to hire a black for
his staff. I cite this current event as a kind of parable for studying the Simms of
1856-57, just a half decade before war broke out.
These five lectures are all on Southern subjects. Two are on the Carolina
Appalachians. He had used some of the material before he wrote the lectures and
he would use it again in his late fiction, but he apparently never sought to publish
these lectures. Another, titled "South Carolina in the Revolution," raised a
firestorm of criticism in New York in 1856; likewise Simms did not seek to
publish it (though both A. S. Salley and the editors of Simms's Letters printed it
posthumously). The fourth lecture, published in 1898 by Salley, and the fifth
lecture are even more controversial, and, as far as I can tell, were written
explicitly for and given only to his Charleston audience in May 1857 to explain
the failure in New York of the first three lectures. There is no evidence that
Simms tried to publish any of these five lectures, and perhaps his own reluctance
to publish them should serve as a cautionary tale for us.
So what do Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats have to do with Simms,
his views about the South, and his Northern lecture tour? Just this: Apparently
Senator Thurmond realized, as time unfolded, that the law and the custom had
changed, and he too changed his custom and began to view his fellow South
Carolinians as among his constituents and potential allies. Simms, likewise, I
believe, endeavored with some success after the war to alter his way of looking at
the former slaves, now his black neighbors, and even of looking at the "Old
South." But Senator Thurmond has been given fifty years to redeem his racist
rhetoric and to have others explain that he was in 1948 simply acting within "the
law and the custom." Simms was given only five destitute and turbulent years
after the war in which to redeem his apparently racist rhetoric and express his
deeply held humane and humanitarian views on his fellow South Carolinians,