Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> The Mother Land: The Southern Nationalism of William Gilmore Simms >> Page 12

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 12

Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription nation [as] its distinctive civilization, which is the product of its unique history,
culture and geographical profile."37 Historical scholars and artists are the principal
formulators of its ideals.38 The artist is "the paradigmatic figure of the national
community," and "the great artists are they who create out of the collective
experience of the people, preserved in historical legends, and dramatize their lessons
for the present."39 This description of cultural nationalism reads as if it were taken
from Simms's career.
It should be noted that Simms's cultural nationalism was American and
Southern at the same time, without contradiction, in two senses, the first being that
the South is as much American as is the North. Especially during the earlier part of
his career, Simms emphasized what distinguished America as a whole from Britain
and Europe. Secondly, the South is American in that it is part of the United States.
Simms always believed that one promoted American cultural identity by promoting
the specific identity of one's particular part of America, whether it be the section,
the State, or even a more local entity. Thus, Southern Nationalism and American
Nationalism could be two aspects of the same phenomenon, as long as they each
respected the other and did not attempt to destroy or harm the other. This results
from the original federal character of the republic.
But before the 1830s was out, Simms's primal), loyalty to the South, because
he was of that culture, began to influence him in the direction of Southern political
independence. He began with an openness to the idea. By the mid 1840s, at the
latest, he was favorably disposed to a politically independent Southern nation,
though he carefully guarded his public comments, in the public sphere holding out
hope that North and South could be reconciled. His close confidant James Henry
Hammond revealed Simms's views when in mid 1845 he wrote Simms: "Could a
convention have been called last winter & responded to, we should have every thing
our own way. The union dissolved–the South out–the world at our feet entreating
for our staples & our trade." Simms had strongly hinted at his views when on New
Year's Day, 1845, he had written Congressman Armistead Burt regarding Texas
annexation: "I am very sure that if South Carolina were in her position, I should be
the last man in the world to desire to bring her into a conjunction in which she was
to meet with nothing but warfare. I should prefer the struggle against open foes &
poverty, for independence over all other considerations." Even in 1838 Simms had
entertained the advisability of Southern political independence, revealing that
"under my present views of matters & things, it is of little real importance-certainly
not of vital importance–if we were to secede from the Union; and the policy might
be a good one, if it were only to bring the `blatant beast' to his senses." Here the

37 Ibid., pp. 2, 12.
J8 Ibid., pp. 3, 14.
39 Ibid., p. 15.