Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> The Mother Land: The Southern Nationalism of William Gilmore Simms >> Page 18

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Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription focusing on slavery, admits that the intellectuals of the antebellum South "viewed
freedom, not slavery, as the driving force in human progress, moral and material."60
To understand a people, one must understand their heart and soul, all aspects
of their life and concerns. Simms was not interested in one aspect of the South; he
ardently desired to advance the total cultural life of the Southern people.61 That he
concentrated much of his fire at the Abolitionists was only the natural result of
defending what had been attacked. But to someone like Simms, Southern
independence involved much more than one topical concern, however important. A
primary identification with his culture and people was the fundamental motivating
force, in the sense that without that, independence would not have been an option. If
there had not been a loyalty to the South, resolution of differences must have been
worked out within the Union.
Simms's sense of patriotism was based on the fundamental relationship he
saw between an individual and the society of which he was a part. Like other
Southerners of his period, he could not imagine man apart from his society, his
community. He believed that communities and nations have characteristic traits,
which the individual imbibes, because taught and raised by that community; and in
turn the community receives its character from the individuals and families which
compose it. There is a fundamental tie of heart and soul between the man and the
society which raised and nourished him, and especially that society's sense of its
past, present, and future. This feeling, in a very fundamental sense, goes to the very
heart of Simms's devotion to the South. Simms expressed this belief in a speech to
the South Carolina legislature when he served as a member in the 1844 legislative
session. Benjamin Franklin Perry heard Simms speak, and recorded his impression:
"His conclusion was very beautiful: South Carolina had given him birth ... cradled
him in his infancy ... she had a right to demand of him his life, his talents and his
exertions ... and in death, he desired only to be received into her bosom."62
It is clear that for Simms Southerners were always a distinct people, to whom
he belonged by birth, upbringing, and sentiment. The Union was an instrument for
their well being, not for their oppression. Simms's intense love for South Carolina
and for the South, his feeling that he truly belonged to these peoples, formed the
foundation for his desire for Southern independence, both culturally and politically
— culturally throughout his career; politically when he realized sometime in the

60 Eugene Genovese, The Slaveholder 's Dilemma (Columbia: The University of South Carolina
Press, 1992), p. 11.
61 Blacks were considered by Simms to be undergoing a state of tutelage in slavery, so that they
were also being advanced. See William Gilmore Simms, Slavery in America: Being A Brief
Review of Miss Martineau on that Subject (Richmond: Thomas W. White, 1838), pp. 68-84, and
William Gilmore Simms, "The Morals of Slavery," in William Harper, et. al., The Pro-Slavery
;argument (Charleston, South Carolina: Walker, Richardson and Co.. 1852), pp. 263-275.
62 Simms, The Letters of William Gilmore Simms, II, p. 11, fn. 17.