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Lincoln and Darwin: More Alike Than You'd Might Think

Lincoln and Darwin: More Alike Than You'd Might Think

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?


Join The Conversation
kastarte2 kastarte2 8 years
em1282 I loved He-Man! I had a Grayskull like castle thing and all the action figures. I like She-ra the best though. She was fantastic. They should rerun that show on cartoon network. That one and Thundercats.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
I agree with rac. I feel like evolution would have been discovered eventually, but without Lincoln we could be living in a very different country today. On a side note, for anyone living in/planning on visiting DC, they have opened the home where Lincoln spent a lot of summers during his presidency and the tour is very interesting. I definitely recommend it. It's on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
UnDave I can only speak for my self but I got your point. Your choice of words however left a hysterical irony in the room considering your use of the word master. I will agree that humans have dominion over the earth but to suggest that we have mastered that responsibility is simply laughable and boy did I ever.
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
It's OK Sy, I can take it. I can't help it if they missed the point. Are there any animals on this planet that are more advanced than us? No. Are there animals that scientists have proven to been on the earth since before humans? Yes. Why are we the most evolved group when we aren't the oldest. I think that is a very big argument against Darwins theory of Evolution.
em1282 em1282 8 years
"Forget Master of the Earth. I want to be MAster of the Universe! Oh wait, doesn't He-man already have that title?" I miss my He-Man electric toothbrush set. I think it talked, too, and was in the shape of Grayskull. Man, I was a tomboy. ;) I don't know if either is more important, but since I'm a big science nerd, I'm goin' with Darwin. Also, theory = scientific rhetoric does not mean theory = everyday rhetoric, so on and so forth, they don't mean the same thing so aren't exactly comparable, etc., not going to get into any arguments about evolution today ;)
stephley stephley 8 years
Dave's mean to hard working scientists.
syako syako 8 years
y'all are mean to dave. :raspberry:
kastarte2 kastarte2 8 years
Forget Master of the Earth. I want to be MAster of the Universe! Oh wait, doesn't He-man already have that title?
Agreed Hypno! Master of the Earth, wouldn't that be your God?
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
"Masters of the Earth" Thanks for the belly laugh before bed UnDave. I woke up my honey and probably frightened the neighbors.
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
We are more than just an animal. We have the ability to reason. There are animals that have been "around" for far longer than we have. Why is it that we have risen to become the masters of the earth, and those animals havent?
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 8 years
Because of Darwin, I have been reduced to an animal. Oh wait, I am an animal.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
Yes, I agree on the point of late bloomers. In the modern perception of what is success it is a shame to think how man people give up dreaming because they do not fit the modern time line of achieving in our society. As for the question "who was more important" if forced to extrapolate an answer I suppose after some thought I would have to sway to Lincoln on this one. It was (his) perception, careful thought, judgment and wisdom at a pivotal moment in time which dictated the terms of the Civil War. If his time had come too soon or too late chances are the out come may not have been the same. There for timing is what makes President Lincoln more important in my opinion. As for Darwin he took notes of observation for twenty years compiled it into a book and said here this is what I saw. A bunch of people went out and said hey I see the same thing. In my opinion if Darwin had not made the observations anyone with great patience and a pation for life science would have made the observation sooner or later.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 8 years
Actually, I'd say that Darwin attempted to reduce us all to animals, with no control of our ultimate destinies. Lincoln helped support the concept of humanity, in spite of color, being something better and finer. So, yeah, I'd go with Lincoln. Interesting how we respond so differently to personal tragedies. And I'm immensely relieved to know that there's hope for late bloomers. I'm still waiting.... :fingerscrossed:
KrisSugar KrisSugar 8 years
stephley that was a very eloquent response! i agree.
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
I would like to point out that evolution is a theory, not a fact, as it pertains to Darwin. Therefore, Lincoln was a much more important person.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
Is this a trick question?
raciccarone raciccarone 8 years
I think Lincoln was more important because the discovery of evolution was inevitable whereas without Lincoln, the Civil War might have turned out very differently. But I don't want to fight about it. :ghost: I am but a ghost.
yesteryear yesteryear 8 years
this is an excellent piece, citizen. good work. personally, i think darwin was more important - though lincoln's story has always been more compelling.
Auntie-Coosa Auntie-Coosa 8 years
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. And aren't these words the same words which inspire the United States to fight for democracy for every person who lives under tyrannical governments? From Iraq to . . . ?
stephley stephley 8 years
In the spirit of Lincoln, I'd say neither was MORE important - Darwin taught us the natural whys and hows of why we do what we do and why, Lincoln shows that biology doesn't have to be destiny, and the importance of human will and spirit to do more than survive, and to summon the better angels of our nature.
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