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 26

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 26

Secondary Scholarship | 2008
Transcription religious faith which he possessed, it may be remarked, was one of the
chief sources of the audacity of his courage.11

It should be noted, in light of the above praise, that it was in Cortes and
his men that Simms saw a "wild and inconsistent religious fanaticism." This
type of two-sided analysis of praise and criticism, a very common feature in
Simms's writings, further illustrates his honest attempt to give a balanced account
regardless of religious perspective. Whatever biases might have skewed Simms's
historical conclusions, they did not seem to be driven by a one-sided religious
perspective. To Simms it was not necessary that either Protestant or Catholic
win.
If of any work it might be said that Simms resorted to whig
oversimplification, The History of South Carolina would be that work. Simms
felt it necessary, as he stated in the preface, to expound "the unbroken progress of
connected events." His method was "to place the facts in a simple form . . . to
couple events closely, so that no irrelevant or unnecessary matter should
interpose itself between the legitimate relation of cause and effect; and to be
careful," he added, "that the regular stream of the narrative should flow on
without interruption to the end of its course. ..."12 He condensed the work to
make it affordable for the poor and understandable to the youth, but this was no
indication of a "shortcut through complexity" in order to shape the story as he
wanted it to be.
The History of South Carolina bears more resemblance to a
"labyrinthine web" than a whig straight line. A comparison with David
Ramsay's earlier history of the state--one of the works that prompted Simms to
write a shorter and simpler version reveals greater attention on Simms's part to
what might be considered non-essential information, especially for a condensed
account. Ramsay "started his narrative with South Carolina's English settlements
in 1670 and only made passing reference in one paragraph to the Spanish and
French settlement attempts.13 Simms, on the other hand, spends the first five
chapters exclusively on France and Spain. As might be expected in a whig
account, there is no clear indication that these opening chapters were written as a
prelude to English or Protestant superiority. Simms included them because he
understood that French and Spanish exploits were intricate to the complicated
whole of Carolina's past. In Carolina "three great nations contended, on grounds
of nearly equal justice, for the possession of the soil."14



11 Simms, "Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico," 204. To Butterfield the ramifications of religious
allegiance did not require the surrender of historical veracity. History is not compromised as long as
the historian differentiates between his particular system of metaphysics and the historical evidence.
Simms demonstrated a similar perspective in that he tried not to allow his personal religious views to
arbitrarily decide how he would interpret historical evidence. Butterfield, Christianity and History
(New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950), 3.
12 Simms, The History of South Carolina, v-vii, xi-xii; Busick, A Sober Desire for History, 51-54.
13 David Ramsay, Ramsay's History of South Carolina, From its First Settlement in 1670 to the
year 1808 (Newberry, S. C.: W. J. Duffle, 1858), 1.
14 Simms, The History of South Carolina, 2.

26