Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> The Mother Land: The Southern Nationalism of William Gilmore Simms >> Page 11

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Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription of history, heritage, and worth, their sense of themselves with a special identity and
character all their own. And Southerners, at least intellectual Southerners,
recognized this. Fellow Charlestonian James Warley Miles called Simms "The
National Poet of the Southern Land."31 Many other similar praises came his way.
Rather than being against the grain of the times, as Americans have been
taught, Southern Nationalism was fully in tune with the spirit of romantic
nationalisms then sweeping Europe.32 Much confusion exists when we speak of
nations and nationalism. There are about as many definitions of nations as there are
people writing about them, but most authorities agree that a nation does not
necessarily mean a nation-state. Nationalism is generally defined as the effort to
bring a nation into being or to liberate or reconstitute or reinvigorate a nation. Max
Weber defined a nation as "a community of sentiment which would adequately
manifest itself in a state of its own" and placed greatest reliance in the formation of
a nation on history and memories.33 Many other definitions, including romantic
conceptions of the nineteenth century, roughly equate people with nation. Under
these definitions each American State, as well as major American regions, could
easily have been considered nations, and sometimes were. Michael O'Brien has
noted that in the South "the doctrine of states' rights became romanticized, whereby
the state became a nation in miniature and hence potentially and morally entitled to
self-determination."34 O'Brien and John Shelton Reed both note that, analytically,
nationalism and sectionalism are the same.35 In this sense sectional politics are
aspects of political nationalism.
In the cultural sphere, Simms's Southern Nationalism encompasses the
entirety of his career. Cultural nationalism aims at "the moral regeneration of the
national community."36 It is articulated by intellectuals who see "the essence of a

31 Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life, 212, quoting James Warley Miles, "Southern Passages and
Pictures," in Southern Literary Gazette 17 (May 1851), 289-96.
32 See Michael O'Brien, Chapter 2: "The Lineaments of Antebellum Southern Romanticism," in
his Rethinking the South (especially p. 37); and Hans Kohn, American Nationalism: An
Interpretative Essay (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1957), Chapter 3, "A Republic of Many
Republics." Drew Gilpin Faust, A Sacred Circle (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press,
1977) discusses the then current intellectual concerns of Simms and four fellow intellectuals of the
Old South.
33 Max Weber, From Max Weber, Essays in Sociology, ed. by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1958, 1946), 176.
34 Michael O'Brien, "Regionalism," in Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, 1989, 1121.
35 O'Brien, Ibid.; John Shelton Reed, "For Dixieland: The Sectionalism of I'll Take My Stand," in
William C. Havard and Walter Sullivan, A Band of Prophets: The Vanderbilt Agrarians After Fifty
Years (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), 44.
36 John Hutchinson, The Dynamics of Cultural Nationalism: The Gaelic Revival and the Creation
of the Irish Nation State (London: Allen & Unwin, 1987), p. 9, hereinafter cited as John
Hutchinson, The Dynamics of Cultural Nationalism.