Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> Tiger's Meat: William Gilmore Simms and the History of the Revolution >> Page 27

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Page 27

Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription 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!" There was an election campaign going on in
which the Republicans were highly organized for the first time. Hatred of the South
had been whipped up by politicians and the yellow press. Mob intimidation of
Democratic voters was not uncommon in the area. (See Harold Frederic's fine novel,
The Copperhead, which is exactly about this.)
Americans had worked together for their liberty. The Union involved
reciprocal bonds and courtesies and affections and compromises. What Simms
discovered, and recorded with his usual penetration in "The Social Moral," was that
the comity only worked one way. The slurs against South Carolina's role in the
Revolution were not misunderstandings. They were falsehoods premeditated with
malice. They revealed beyond doubting the evil disposition of erstwhile compatriots.
A very fine recent book supports my position: Sectional Nationalism:
Massachusetts Conservative Leaders and the Transformation of America, 1815-1834
by the historian Harlow W. Sheidley (Northeastern University Press: Boston, 1998).
By "conservative" the author means the socially and economically dominant element,
which would include Daniel and Noah Webster, Lorenzo Sabine, Jedidiah Morse, and
Charles Sumner.
Sheidley describes how the leaders of Massachusetts sorely felt their declining
national power after the War of 1812 and mounted a multifaceted campaign to regain
what they regarded as their rightful pre-eminence. In a chapter called "Sectional
Nationalism: Massachusetts Conservatives Interpret the American Past," he relates
how his subjects moved to take over the history of the American Revolution and the
definition of American nationalism. Daniel Webster's oration in Charleston, in which
he celebrated the non-existent graves of New England Revolutionary soldiers in the
South and to which Simms strenuously objected, is, seen in context, merely a move
in this campaign.
Sheidley summarizes: A "properly constructed history" would promote the
New England version of civic humanism and the political/economic agenda of
nationalism. "Finally, the specific nature of the nationalism promoted by the
Massachusetts conservatives' version of American history would advance their
sectionalist claims" to national pre-eminence, would establish the centrality of New
England in American history, and "vindicate the claims of the state in producing the
Revolution," thereby placing Massachusetts "in a position to which she is entitled."
Professor Sheidley gives chapter and verse from primary sources on the
carrying out of this agenda. He does not say much about the response of those outside
the sacred circle, but he does quote the Pennsylvania writer Job R. Tyson, who
warned "that New Englanders had seized control of American history," claiming "the
exclusive honour of having originated the free principles which followed our
independence. They had garnered for their section the moral triumphs of the whole