Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> Tiger's Meat: William Gilmore Simms and the History of the Revolution >> Page 23

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Page 23

Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription Professor Wakelyn, somewhat typically, plays to this assumption when he
writes: "Simms, who was upset over the attacks by the Northern Congressmen and
abolitionists regarding South Carolina's role in the Revolution, wanted to make his
state proud of its past."2 As I read it, Simms did not accuse South Carolinians of lack
of pride, but of lack of sufficient attention to substantiating their past.3 Wakelyn thus
places Simms's efforts at Revolutionary history, which he has been describing for
pages previous to this statement, as reactive sectionalism. But Simms had been
celebrating the South Carolina Revolutionary experience as a contribution to the
national sentiment that held the Union together, for twenty years prior to 1856. And
it is interesting, in regard to Simms's "sectionalism," that in his foreword to the "new
and revised" 1860 edition of his History of South Carolina, he makes not a single
sectional remark, such as was commonplace with Northern writers, but instead
indulges in civic piety and brilliant remarks about the purposes of history.4
Let us look at the destruction of national sentiment and then at its relation to
the history of the Revolution. In 1789 the Connecticut clergymen Jedidiah Morse
published a work entitled The Universal American Geography. It was the first of its
kind and called for by the new entity in the world, the American confederacy. If we
peruse the extended demographic descriptions in Morse's book, we find the following:
New Englanders are pure Anglo-Saxons. They are hardworking, orderly, prosperous,
progressive, and pious.
South and west of New England, according to Morse, America was benighted
territory inhabited by people who were little better than mongrels—drunken and
slovenly Scotch-Irishmen and ignorant Germans in Pennsylvania, and in the South
imperious, lazy, violent, immoral people, enervated and brutalized by slavery. Morse's
1789 descriptions of New Englanders and Southerners are the same as those
published by Lorenzo Sabine in his 1847 work The American Loyalists to which
Simms so much objected. New England WAS America, containing all of its virtue and
Sabine's attack on South Carolina's role in the Revolution was not a
historiographical or literary fluke. It was a commonplace of New England discourse
for a half-century previously. Such rhetoric was also employed freely by the Northern
Federalists in their struggles with the Southern and Western Jeffersonians in the first
decades of the Union government.

2 John L. Wakelyn, The Politics of a Literary Man. William Gilmore Simms (Westport CT:
Greenwood, 1973), 126.
3 Simms in "The Social Moral": "But secure in our invincible self-esteem, —our chinese
wall—which shuts us in, equally from the Barbarians, —and ourselves, we never troubled
ourselves on the subject of our real reputation, or the duties which it entailed upon us."
4 The History of South Carolina. New and revised edition (New York: Redfield, 1860), 1-7.