Happy birthday Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln!

Is it an unprecedented coincidence?  211 years ago today, just minutes (probably hours) apart according to unconfirmed accounts, Abraham Lincoln was born in a rude log cabin on Nolin Creek, in Kentucky, and Charles Darwin was born into a wealthy family at his family’s home  in Shrewsbury, England.

Gutzon Borglum’s 1908 bust of Abraham Lincoln in the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol – Architect of the Capitol photo

Lincoln would become one of our most endeared presidents, though endearment would come after his assassination.  Lincoln’s bust rides the crest of Mt. Rushmore (next to two slaveholders), with George Washington, the Father of His Country, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and Theodore Roosevelt, the man who made the modern presidency, and the only man ever to have won both a Congressional Medal of Honor and a Nobel Prize, the only president to have won the Medal of Honor. 

Charles Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London – NHM photo

In his effort to keep the Union together, Lincoln freed the slaves of the states in rebellion during the civil war, becoming an icon to freedom and human rights for all history.  Upon his death the entire nation mourned; his funeral procession from Washington, D.C., to his tomb in Springfield, Illinois, stopped twelve times along the way for full funeral services.  Lying in state in the Illinois House of Representatives, beneath a two-times lifesize portrait of George Washington, a banner proclaimed, “Washington the Father, Lincoln the Savior.”

Darwin would become one of the greatest scientists of all time.  He would be credited with discovering the theory of evolution by natural and sexual selection.  His meticulous footnoting and careful observations formed the data for ground-breaking papers in geology (the creation of coral atolls), zoology (barnacles, and the expression of emotions in animals and man), botany (climbing vines and insectivorous plants), ecology (worms and leaf mould), and travel (the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle).  At his death he was honored with a state funeral, attended by the great scientists and statesmen of London in his day.  Hymns were specially written for the occasion.  Darwin is interred in Westminster Abbey near Sir Isaac Newton, England’s other great scientist, who knocked God out of the heavens.

Lincoln would be known as the man who saved the Union of the United States and set the standard for civil and human rights, vindicating the religious beliefs of many and challenging the beliefs of many more.  Darwin’s theory would become one of the greatest ideas of western civilization, changing forever all the sciences, and especially agriculture, animal husbandry, and the rest of biology, while also provoking crises in religious sects.

Lincoln, the politician known for freeing the slaves, also was the first U.S. president to formally consult with scientists, calling on the National Science Foundation (whose creation he oversaw) to advise his administration.  Darwin, the scientist, advocated that his family put the weight of its fortune behind the effort to abolish slavery in the British Empire.  Each held an interest in the other’s disciplines.

Both men were catapulted to fame in 1858. Lincoln’s notoriety came from a series of debates on the nation’s dealing with slavery, in his losing campaign against Stephen A. Douglas to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate.  On the fame of that campaign, he won the nomination to the presidency of the fledgling Republican Party in 1860.  Darwin was spurred to publicly reveal his ideas about the power of natural and sexual selection as the force behind evolution, in a paper co-authored by Alfred Russel Wallace, presented to the Linnean Society in London on July 1, 1858.   On the strength of that paper, barely noticed at the time, Darwin published his most famous work, On the Origin of Species, in November 1859.

Darwin and Lincoln might have got along well, but they never met.

What unusual coincidences.

Go celebrate human rights, good science, and the stories about these men.

A school kid could do much worse than to study the history of these two great men.  We study them far too little, it seems to me.


Charles Darwin:

Abraham Lincoln:


Anybody know what hour of the day either of these men was born?

Yes, you may fly your flag today for Lincoln’s birthday, according to the Flag Code; the official holiday, Washington’s Birthday, is next Monday, February 15th — and yes, it’s usually called “Presidents Day” by merchants and calendar makers. You want to fly your flag for Charles Darwin? Darwin never set foot in North America, remained a loyal subject of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, to the end of his days. But go ahead. Who would know?

This is an encore post.
Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

5 Responses to Happy birthday Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln!

  1. Appreciate yourr blog post


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Richard, someone has written about their similar views, but no correspondence, James Lander; there’s a Wikipedia entry on his book:

    Lincoln and Darwin is structured as a series of alternating narratives concerning each man’s interactions with the events and discoveries of the mid-19th century.[2] Lander explores similarities in the intellectual development, concerns, and impacts of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, focusing in particular on the issue of slavery in the United States, which both men influentially opposed.[4] Lander’s broader argument is that Lincoln and Darwin shared the same outlook on the central issues of race, science, and religion. He also looks at the relationship between science and race in the 19th century United States and the emergence and influence of scientific racism.[3] Lander situates Lincoln and Darwin against their respective opponents: Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s rival in Illinois politics, and Louis Agassiz, an advocate of polygenism.[1]


    Smithsonian Magazine did a feature on Darwin and Lincoln; Adam Gopnik looked for references each made to the other in their writings.


    Another article from the same issue, a broader overview:

    Mark Mancini wrote at Mental Floss about 6 coincidences in life details and beliefs between Darwin and Lincoln, and ending with the observation that Darwin was a dog lover, while Lincoln preferred cats:


    The Darwin Project notes a letter from 1861, in which Darwin wrote to Asa Gray in America about his concerns about the Civil War, and whether America could ever be made whole again:


    The science journal, Genome Biology, commented on the coincidence in a 2009 article, mostly a paean to Darwin:


    So we can be certain Lincoln and Darwin didn’t meet, pretty sure they didn’t correspond, but note that they shared several concerns about the world and the affairs of men.


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    I don’t think they were pen pals, Mr. Daybell.It would be a good question to ask someone at the Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois — but I wager the notes on Darwin’s correspondence is better catalogued.

    Maybe there’s a happy surprise for some researcher waiting.


  4. Kiwiwriter says:

    Both of them were absolute titans. Interesting that they drew immense hatred during their lives, and looney tunes who share the same non-values hate them today.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. They never met, but maybe they were pen pals.

    Liked by 1 person

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