Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 16: No 1) >> ''That Feel and Touch of the Elbow": William Gilmore Simms and the Whig Interpretation of History >> Page 25

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Secondary Scholarship | 2008
Transcription (i.e., Martin Luther), rather than the complex "process," presents the Reformation

as the catalyst (as if Luther had this in mind) of present day liberty. Whig history
demonstrates "throughout the ages the workings of an obvious principle of
progress, of which the Protestants and whigs have been the perennial allies while
Catholics and tories have perpetually formed obstruction."7 Butterfield held as an

abiding principle that liberty, as with any historical phenomenon, was more apt to
derive from the "process" rather than the "agency," from the "clash" of historical
events more than any one person or institution. To avoid the process of clash, the
whig historian operates from a "principle of exclusion which enables him to leave
out the most troublesome element in the complexity."8
This arbitrary placement of Protestant over Catholic was virtually non-
existent with Simms. This is not to say that he was never critical of Catholicism,
especially that "wild and inconsistent fanaticism of the Spaniards" that resulted in
forced conversions of the Aztecs to Christianity.9 Yet, Simms's complaint was
not so much with the religious source as with the idea of any type of religious

In The History of South Carolina one finds a fair treatment of both
Protestant and Catholic. For example, when word reached France of the cruelties
the Spaniard Pedro Melendez waged against the French Huguenots in America, it
"offended the moral sense of Christian Europe." It was "the people, Catholic no
less than Protestant, [that] burned with the sentiment for vengeance, which they
were yet compelled to smother." Their hopes were eventually realized in the
heroics of the Catholic Chevalier Dominique de Gourgues, "the very
personification of intense heroism and a noble nature." Even with his failed
attempts to regain a French foothold in Carolina "his memory can not be
forgotten, and his adventures might well become a story of their own."10
Evidence of this balanced approach is found in Simms's review of
William Prescott's History of the Conquest of Mexico. Examining the life of
Hernando Cortes, Simms saw the conquistador's Catholic religion as uniquely
connected to his heroics.

We are not to forget . . . among the essential and important
qualities in the moral constitution of Cortes, that he entertained an
abiding sense of the presence of the Deity in all the concerns and
workings of humanity. He was of that earnest, concentrative nature, that
all operations of his thoughts were impressed with the serious influences

of a deep and still dependent faith. The Deity was always present to his
imagination as a constituent motive in his own proceedings. . . . This

7 Ibid., 12.
8 Ibid., 28-29.

9 William Gilmore Simms, " Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico," in Views and Reviews in
American Literature History and Fiction, First Series, ed. C. Hugh Holman (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962), 226.
10 Simms, The History of South Carolina from its first European Discovery to its Erection into a
Republic, 2d ed. (Charleston, South Carolina: S. Babcock & Co., 1842) 49, 54.