Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 2) >> Remembering the Father of Southern Literature >> Page 25

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Page 25

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription novels, and Colonial novels, 110 short stories, 2,000 poems, four
biographies, histories, geographies, plays, some 2,000 surviving letters, and
volumes and volumes of uncollected criticism. All told, at least 65 books.
Simms not only covered the waterfront of types of literature, so to
speak, but he also fearlessly faced the great moral and spiritual issues of 19th
century America. And he wrote about them extensively. Authors are judged
ultimately by how much they write of quality. And the quality of their
writing is related to what they write about. Some subjects are just more
important than others. What an author chooses to write about has a lot to do
with how important an author is. Simms wrote about the most important
subjects in 19th century America. He wrote about the national enormities.
What are those enormities? What are those historical events for which
Americans are vulnerable?
First, the Indian wars. Simms wrote more than 100 literary pieces
about Indians. He viewed them with compassion and respect rather than
disgust or fear. Yet Simms went beyond expressing an interest in and
sympathy for Indians. He addressed his works to white Christian readers, to
those best positioned to help Native Americans unable to help themselves.
His goal was to address the mistreatment of Native Americans by softening
the hearts of those allowing it to continue. He sought to assist Indians and to
procure due justice for Native Americans. To Simms, those who owed them
much had given them little, other than useless trinkets and false promises
that were broken in the rush to remove them in the name of progress.
Slavery: students are programmed today to believe slavery is the
Southern crime. Simms was a pioneer in portraying blacks. Between 1829
and 1859, he included blacks in ten novels, six tales, two novelettes, and
three sketches. He was the first author to make blacks the main characters in
literary works.
It is fashionable today to teach people that slavery is the Southern
enormity. Students are programmed to think this way in schools and through
documentaries. But Simms understood what people today have forgotten:
that England's experience with slavery was long, deep, and brutal. New
England was the main importer of slaves and a major source of supplies for
slaveholding Caribbean plantations. Northerners saw blacks as foreigners
who had no connection to historic New England or to America. The state
constitutions of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Oregon forbade the entrance of
any free blacks or mulattoes upon their soil. Other states passed statues that
discouraged the entrance of free blacks and severely limited the rights of
those present. Lincoln's state of Illinois constitutionally prohibited free
blacks and mulattoes from entering after 1848, and those already present
were not citizens of the state, could not sit on juries, could not testify against
whites, could not vote and had to pay taxes for an education system that
entirely excluded their children.