Newsweek's cover story pits two men against each other that I have to confess, I'd never really considered in the same breath: Lincoln and Darwin. As next year marks the 200th birthdays (both were born on February 12, 1809) of both men whose independent ideas have have formed our modern world, Newsweek asks the tricky question, who was more important: Lincoln or Darwin? Are we more influenced by the man who preserved the concept of republican democracy or the man who brought forth the idea of evolution? The ideas they pioneered were as disparate as the men are surprisingly similar.
Here's how: Both men lost their mothers in early childhood, both suffered depression and both struggled with religious questions. The two also had poor relations with their fathers and each lost a child in early childbirth. Lincoln and Darwin both share "late bloomers" disease: Neither found real success until their middle years — Darwin published The Origin of the Species at 50 and Lincoln was elected President one year later. To see the most surprising and possibly inspiring shared trait,
Perhaps the most amazing of their shared commonalities is the fact that neither man showed any real promise early in their careers. Darwin began as an amateur naturalist who collected bugs and rocks and only flirted with the idea of biological science without any driving force or cogent overall theory. It wasn't until his trip on the Beagle a trip he took almost as a lark (or, finch? Heh.) It was on the trip, kind of a rich young man’s idea of seeing the world (would Darwin have been on The Hills?) that he began to formulate his concept of evolution and natural selection. The sneaky man kept his idea a secret for two decades without working in graduate school, government funding or even so much as asking other scientific minds their opinions.
Lincoln too worked slowly and steadily towards mastering anything he found interesting. Preferring to be self-taught, Lincoln rarely remained in school for more than three months at any given time. Despite his correspondence-course way of book learnin' he mastered Trigonometry by working as a surveyor and memorized Shakespeare and Blackstone. When Lincoln found himself in the beginning throes of the civil war, he quickly found himself in command of all Northern forces until he could rely on Grant years into the conflict.
The similarities don't end there. The Newsweek piece delves into how both men forged new worlds with their words — including the famed Gettysburg address — in the first 29 words of which, Lincoln defined the reason for the civil war; a stunning literary achievement by any rhetorical measure. After that he expresses, with incredible clarity and distinction the longing for all American’s to be free and to be united, in peace. The article is well worth a read, even if you've never found yourself musing about the beak size of Galapagos Finch or considered reuniting a country split by war. Eh, baby steps. The guys didn't get on the ball 'till they were 50 anyway.
Who do you think was more important?