Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were famously born on the very same day--this date in 1809--Darwin in England and Lincoln in the U.S. Darwin was born to a well-to-do family and ended up becoming one of the most important scientists of all time, and Lincoln was born in a much poorer family and ended up becoming one of the most important U.S. Presidents.
Last year, upon the occasion of these two men's 200th birthdays, articles and books compared the two, and we found out that both men lost their mothers in childhood, had strained relationships with their fathers, and suffered from depression. Both had difficulties settling on a career. Lincoln piloted a river raft, split rails, and served as a store clerk, postmaster, and surveyor before becoming a lawyer and finally seeking political office. Darwin, as the son of a wealthy society doctor, was supposed to become a doctor as well but neglected his studies at medical school. His disappointed father enrolled him in another university program so that he could become a parson in the Anglican church instead. However, after graduating, Darwin, who had always been interested in nature, took a position on the H.M.S. Beagle as a gentleman naturalist, and so began his career in science.
The most significant likeness between Darwin and Lincoln, of course, is that they both had major impact on the world.
Lincoln was president during the dreadful Civil War, when southern states broke away from the country and formed the Confederate States of America in response to efforts to limit the spread of slavery. Lincoln's act of keeping the nation together shaped how the U.S. thought of itself—more a country than a collection of states—and widened the commitment that the nation was based on the idea that “all men are created equal.” Of course, Lincoln had enormous impact on the United States itself, but Lincoln also helped set up the country as an important, long-lasting nation on the world stage, and eventually a super-power.
Darwin and his big idea revolutionized all of biology and changed how people thought of themselves and their history. Because findings in biology mesh with findings in geology, chemistry, and other sciences, Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection has had an impact on other scientific fields and even the philosophy of science. The language of evolution and selection has been applied (sometimes incorrectly) far outside of Darwin's Origin of the Species, and linguists now discuss the evolution and extinction of languages, social scientists discuss the reproduction and mutation of memes (bits of human culture, such as a particular song or style of dress), and economists discuss evolutionary models of monetary systems.
One reason for the influence of Lincoln and Darwin is that they both wrote exceptionally well. Here are some quotes from the two men:
A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. – Darwin
A house divided against itself cannot stand. – Lincoln
A man's friendships are one of the best measures of his worth. – Darwin
Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them? – Lincoln
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. – Darwin
America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. – Lincoln
To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact. – Darwin
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. – Lincoln
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. – Darwin
Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm. – LincolnCheck out a Lincoln timeline.
Some kids and their teachers at Berwick Academy made an illustrated timeline of Abraham Lincoln's life. After you enjoy looking at it, consider making a similar contribution on a topic that interests you! The internet is a very democratic institution—anyone can add to the writings, art, and photography available on the web!
Find out more about Lincoln here.
Watch a movie about Darwin.
This clip from Animal Planet, about Darwin and the Galapagos Islands, is short and funny. This clip from National Geographic deals with Darwin in a more serious way and has beautiful photography.
Attend a Darwin Day event.
This international celebration includes many local events, some held in museums and universities. Check for a local event here.