Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

The Humanist, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)


Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were both born on February 12, 1809, a fact one never forgets for its poignancy. At the time of their birth, Lincoln and Darwin were physically half a world apart and the fortunes of their families could hardly have been more unequal.

Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England (and would later remark that he was"born a naturalist"). His father was a successful physician and investor, thus Charles was able to pursue his interests without financial concerns. As a result he attended both the University of Edinburgh and Cambridge University, where he graduated as an Anglican cleric in 1831. Later in the same year he was invited to take the position as unpaid naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle. Darwin spent the next five years exploring and collecting animal and plant specimens along the east and west coasts of South America, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, and the Cape of Good Hope. After returning to England, Darwin's life was spent compiling monumental amounts of evidence to support his theory of evolution. In 1839 he married his cousin, Emma Wedgewood, and they had ten children in all, seven of whom lived to adulthood. On November 24, 1859, he published his mostfamous book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (changed to The Origin of Species for the sixth edition in 1872). Darwin, who suffered from undiagnosed illness most of his adult life, died at home on April 19, 1882 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Lincoln, on the other hand, was born to a farming familyin a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Although he had some elementary schooling, Lincoln was largely self-educated and preferred reading borrowed books to working in the field. As a young man from a poor family, however, he had to work at various jobs, including as a retailer, surveyor, and as postmaster, during which time he earned the moniker"Honest Abe" He later became a successful attorney and then served in the lllinois legislature from 1834-40, first as a member of the Whig party before becoming a Republican in 1836. …

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