Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> Tiger's Meat: William Gilmore Simms and the History of the Revolution >> Page 26

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Page 26

Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription The Burnt Over District was so called because it had been swept time and
again by raging fires of evangelism and reform. The evangelism was post-millennial,
a heretical form of Protestantism postulating the need to perfect man on earth before
Judgment Day. At various times reform had focused on perfection of man on earth
by elimination of liquor, of tobacco, of meat-eating, of marriage, or other evils. When
Simms in 1856 bearded the tiger, fervor had concentrated on the greatest evil in
American society, the Southern slaveholder. America was God's instrument and
God's Kingdom on earth, held back from perfection only by Southern wickedness.11
If we draw the line of Simms's course from New York City to Buffalo in 1856,
we will pass within a few miles of: the center of the anti-masonic paranoia of a few
decades earlier; the place where Joseph Smith received the tablets of Mormon from
the Angel Moroni; where William Miller began the Seventh Day Adventists by
predicting, inaccurately, the date of the end of the world; the free love colony of John
Humphrey Noyes at Oneida; the first feminist convention at Seneca Falls; and the area
where John Brown lived and collected followers and financial backers.
Simms could not have picked a worse place to carry his temperate plea for
fraternal sentiment in the history and credit of the Revolution. The area was awash
with class and ethnic conflict, religious hysteria, and political paranoia. Once he had
seen it firsthand, Simms described it well in "The Social Moral." Because of the
ambitions and internal conflicts of the North, tensions had been diverted to an outside
enemy, the South. The grounds of fraternal sentiment no longer held. The North no
longer stood for what Simms called in "The Social Moral,""harmony, union, and
There was, but not alone, the Brooks-Sumner affair. Republicans were told
by their newspapers and orators of a brutal attack by a Southern bully. They knew
nothing of the provocation. They had been told of Bleeding Kansas, which, in
accordance with Charles Sumner's speech, was all the fault of brutish Southerners.
They knew little of Beecher's Bibles and nothing of John Brown's mass murders.
The people of the Burnt Over District had long known that Southerners were
alien and contemptible, inferior but dangerous. They now knew that Southerners were
engaged in an evil conspiracy to dominate the Union, to spread slavery, to threaten
and thwart everything good and decent valued by Northerners, like protective tariffs
and government-sponsored banking. Political tiger's meat indeed, thrown out for the
advantage of the Republican agenda.
The hateful reaction to Simms's lecture tour was no isolated incident, nor was
it a spontaneous outrage at the Brooks-Sumner affair. "Shall a whole people be fed,

11 For a beginning place on an accumulating literature, see Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer
Nation: The Idea of America 's Alillenial Role (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968);
Richard F. Bensel, Yankee Leviathan (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990).