Two hundred years ago on February 12, two extraordinary men were born. One on the American frontier and the other in England. Besides their day of birth, what do Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin have in common? Quite a bit it seems.
Both men were family men who loved and cared for their childen. Olivia Judson writes about Darwin
At the same time, he was a humane, gentle, decent man, a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend. Judging by his letters, he was also sometimes quite funny. He was, in other words, one of those rare beings, as likeable as he was impressive.
For example, after his marriage, Darwin worked at home, and his children (of the 10 he fathered, seven survived to adulthood) remembered playing in his study. Later, one of his sons recounted how, after an argument, his father came up to his room, sat on his bed, and apologized for losing his temper. And although often painted as a recluse, Darwin served as a local magistrate, meting out justice in his dining room.
Darwin is best known for the theory of evolution while Lincoln is known for his own political evolution. Again, Judson on Darwin
The “Origin,” of course, is what he is best known for. This volume, colossal in scope yet minutely detailed, laid the foundations of modern biology. Here, Darwin presented extensive and compelling evidence that all living beings — including humans — have evolved from a common ancestor, and that natural selection is the chief force driving evolutionary change.
Eric Foner writes this about Lincoln in The Nation
Until well into the Civil War, Lincoln was not an advocate of immediate abolition. But he was well aware of the abolitionists’ significance in creating public sentiment hostile to slavery. Every schoolboy, Lincoln noted in 1858, recognized the names of William Wilberforce and Granville Sharpe, leaders of the earlier struggle to outlaw the Atlantic slave trade, “but who can now name a single man who labored to retard it?” On issue after issue–abolition in the nation’s capital, wartime emancipation, enlisting black soldiers, amending the Constitution to abolish slavery, allowing some blacks to vote–Lincoln came to occupy positions the abolitionists had first staked out. The destruction of slavery during the war offers an example, as relevant today as in Lincoln’s time, of how the combination of an engaged social movement and an enlightened leader can produce progressive social change.
Finally, both Darwin and Lincoln opposed slavery. First, Judson on Darwin
Moreover, while many of his contemporaries approved of slavery, Darwin did not. He came from a family of ardent abolitionists, and he was revolted by what he saw in slave countries: “Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal …. It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty.”
And Lincoln, while not initally supporting immediate abolition did oppose slavery
“I have always hated slavery,” Lincoln once declared, “I think as much as any abolitionist.” He spoke of slavery as a “monstrous injustice,” a cancer that threatened the lifeblood of the American nation.
So let’s wish them both a very happy birthday!