February 12, 1809 arrived like every other day before it, with the turning of the Earth to accept the rays of the early morning sun.
But on this particular day, two men were born who would both later find themselves mentioned on the list of the world’s all-time most influential people.
Their names were Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.
The men could not have had more dissimilar origins.
Charles Darwin was born that day in Shropshire, England to a wealthy doctor and financier. His mother was descended from the wealthy Wedgwood lineage (of Wedgwood China fame) and his paternal grandfather was the famous scientist Erasmus Darwin. He attended the University of Edinburgh Medical School, but found more interest in taxidermy, which he learned from a freed slave.
In 1831, young Charles embarked on a five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle to help chart the coastline of South America. Charles spent much of his time on the journey collecting specimens of plant and animal life. His studies eventually led to the formulation of his Theory of Natural Selection many years later, which brought the concept of vast eons of time and the mutability of species into the discussion of life on Earth. His writings still stir up controversy 150 years after they were first published.
Lincoln was born that same day in a log cabin in central Kentucky, 5,000 miles away. Not having the luxury of wealth, he was largely self-educated. Lincoln possessed a sharp mind and a keen sense of humor, which enabled him to become a successful attorney. Unlike Darwin, he never ventured much farther from his home than the White House.
Shortly after Darwin published his landmark treatise On The Origin of Species in 1859, Lincoln found himself the leader of a divided nation: one where many citizens believed that the ownership of other humans was not only proper, but divinely ordained. Lincoln spent the last years of his life waging a war partly to insure that slavery would never again be permissible on the North American continent.
While their contributions came in far different arenas – Lincoln’s primarily political, and Darwin’s in the field of biology – both men ended up bringing about far-reaching change by making people question whether the conclusions reached by the majority were correct and by suggesting that it was time for humanity to embrace new modes of thinking.