This date in 1809 saw the birth of two great men of history. In the still fledgling United States of America, Abraham Lincoln was born; while across the sea in England, Charles Darwin made his debut.
In a cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky, the man who would lead the U.S. through its most divisive era, and ultimately pay with his life at the hands of an assassin, was born to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. A self-made man, Lincoln grew up in what was considered the frontier, along the Ohio River areas of Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Lincoln’s tenacity to see that this nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth”, insured the reality of “united” states, setting the stage for the later ascension of the country to a position of world leadership. It is highly possible that America as a fractured group of smaller nations, could not have achieved the things that have occurred since.
The day that Nancy Hanks Lincoln was giving birth in Kentucky, Susanna Darwin was delivering the fifth of her six children in Shrewsbury, England. Unlike the humble parentage of Lincoln, young Charles was born into privilege, as his father Robert was a doctor and financier. Robert, although a freethinker, acquiesced to social custom, having Charles baptized into the Anglican faith.
As an adult, Charles would sail the world on the H.M.S. Beagle, and made copious notes and observations about fossils and life forms on various islands along the way. Ultimately, Charles Darwin would craft his theory of natural selection and the evolution of life on this planet, greatly increasing our understanding of biology in his book, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. The religious found Darwin’s ideas to be an affront to God, and blasphemy. This struggle of scientific thought led to the famed Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee; as well as the ongoing opposition by the fundamentalist Christians to the present. Old gods die hard, but just as the god of geocentrism was laid to rest by Copernicus, so Darwin has driven one of the first nails into the coffin of the concept of special creation.
Today we celebrate the lives and contributions of a great American statesman, and the Englishman who revolutionized how we understand the evolution of life on earth.
Happy 198th Birthday to President Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin!