Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> Tiger's Meat: William Gilmore Simms and the History of the Revolution >> Page 22

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Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription Tiger's Meat:
William Gilmore Simms and the History of the Revolution

Clyde N. Wilson

In the early days of the United States, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton
remarked: "The safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common
national sentiment." The common national sentiment—among American peoples
diverse in economic interests, folkways, and political agendas—mainly rested on a
fraternal sense of the shared perils and triumphs of the War of Independence, prior to
which British America had been little more than a geographical expression and which
all Americans recognized as an event of world importance.
In the antebellum years most decent Americans shared in and gloried in this
fraternal sense, as did Simms, that is, until it was destroyed, as I shall relate, by
Northern chauvinism which reinterpreted the Revolutionary experience as part of an
aggressive, highly partisan cultural and economic agenda. I hope to put Simms's
writings on the Revolution, his controversies with Northern historians, and his aborted
1856 Northern lecture tour, which has been well described by Prof. Miriam
Shillingsburg, into a new and larger context. The key documents here are his long-
neglected manuscript lecture, "South Carolina in the Revolution: The Social Moral."1
In this work Simms records his understanding of how the ground had been cut
from under the shared national sentiment which he had done so much to cultivate. In
"The Social Moral" Simms also shows his powers as a social observer in analyzing the
forces in Northern society that had destroyed fraternity, and also his powers as a
historian in understanding the nature of the distortions, many still current today, that
had been inflicted on the understanding of American history. Simms asks, referring
to the North: "Shall a whole people be fed, for near half a century upon tiger's meat,
seasoned with viper's venom, nor raven like the one, nor sting fatally like the other!"
A curious thing about this to me is why Simms was so late in coming to a full
understanding of the forces afoot in American society, for which I will later suggest
possible explanations.
Let us remember that Simms represented a living society that had not yet lost
a war of conquest. One of the pieties enforced at Appomattox is that the Northern is
national and the South is by definition and tacit assumption evilly-motivated

1 Miriam J. Shillingsburg, "Simms's Failed Lecture Tour of 1856: The Mind of the North," in
John C. Guilds, ed., Long Years of Neglect: The Work and Reputation of William Gilmore Simms
(Fayetteville AR: The University of Arkansas Press, 1988), 183-201.
I understand Prof. Shillingsburg is preparing an edition of "The Social Moral."