Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> The Mother Land: The Southern Nationalism of William Gilmore Simms >> Page 4

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 4

Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription and "sang the Ashley, in heroics, a thousand lines," when seventeen.4 He published
at age nineteen his Monody celebrating the noted South Carolina patriot, Charles
Cotesworth Pinckney. As a young boy, stories of the Revolution vividly fired his
imagination. Simms described his tutoring in the deeds of a noble heritage thus:

He had his lessons at the knees of those who were young
spectators in the grand panorama of our Revolution. Their souls
were imbued with its events. ... How the boy brooded over these
narratives! ... There was scarcely a personage, British or American,
Whig or Loyalist — scarcely an event, mournful or glorious —
scarcely a deed, grand or savage — occurring in the history of the low
country of South-Carolina, which has not been conned, for his
benefit ... by venerable friends and loving kinswomen, now
voiceless in the dust. ... He has been taught to see the first kindlings
of the torch of revolution, borne by eager and enthusiastic hands....
Nor was he suffered to hear this narrative with a cold and peevish
attention. It was made life-like to his imagination, by personal
histories, which appealed to his nearest affections and fondest
sympathies. The venerable narrator spoke of his grandsire, or her
own.5

Simms is regarded by most historians and literary men as a Unionist in his
youth and young manhood who, because of sectional interests, became a Southern
Nationalist only about the time of the Compromise of 1850. His Unionism and
Southern Nationalism are seen as incompatible. Such a reading severely misjudges
Simms, whose basic views never changed. He was always the patriot, in no narrow
or selfish sense, but in the broad sense of service to his society, and through service
to society, to mankind at large. As editor of the City Gazette of Charleston during
the Nullification crisis, he ardently defended the cause of the American Union
because he venerated his heritage and American republican ideology. He later just
as ardently defended the South, on both counts. Most Americans today have great
trouble understanding this because they fail to perceive that once the United States
was in fact a federal republic of many republics. This federal structure of
government created a dual system of governance with two and often three
beckoning loyalties—to the State, to the United States, and often, to a region of the
United States as well. Under the original federal arrangement, with limited powers

4 William Gilmore Simms to James Lawson, 29 December 1839, in Mary C. Simms Oliphant,
Alfred Taylor Odell, and T. C. Duncan Eaves, The Letters of William Gilmore Simms, Vol. 1
(Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1952), p. 161; ibid., p. cxx.
5 William Gilmore Simms, "Ellet's Women of the Revolution," Southern Quarterly Review, 17
(July 1850), pp. 351-352.



4