January 23, 2009
Recently, someone here at Smithsonian asked: Who was more important, Abraham Lincoln or Charles Darwin? Yesterday, senior editor T.A. Frail took up the fight for Lincoln. Today, our blog overseer, senior editor Laura Helmuth, argues for Darwin.
Please add your own arguments to the comments. Make a convincing case and I might recruit you into our little office blog war.
Abe Lincoln? Love him. Best president ever. The most inspiring spot in Washington, D.C. is the Lincoln Memorial–stand there in a crowd sometime and read the Second Inaugural etched into the wall and listen to all the sniffles.
There are two ways to approach this debate: either argue about whose accomplishments were more important or argue about how necessary each man was to those accomplishments. To take the last point first, it’s true that the abolition movement was growing stronger and eventually would have prevailed without Lincoln. (I’m not going to wade into the debate about whether the Union would have survived without him.) Likewise, knowledge of the natural world was growing and somebody would have (and Wallace pretty much did) figured out evolution by natural selection if Darwin hadn’t. (But it sure helped that Darwin gathered data meticulously and presented his case so logically. Even though his carefulness was due in part to the fact that he knew his Great Idea had the potential to upset the church, the scientific establishment, and the missus (Emma Darwin was devout).)
I prefer the first line of argument. And how to say this nicely… Lincoln may matter in our measly little lives, but Darwin matters to the entire world and all time. He explained everything that came before him and explains everything that has been learned since. Lincoln worked wonders with his one country, but Darwin allowed us to make sense of all of life on Earth (and presumably any other planet).
Mark, Sarah, and commenters–you guys go ahead and clear this up for us. I’m going to the Galapagos to find some finches.
Who Was More Important?
- Charles Darwin (54%, 110 Votes)
- Abraham Lincoln (46%, 94 Votes)
Total Voters: 203
Come back next week to hear from another Lincoln supporter.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.