This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.
It's a commonplace of U.S. history but a wonder nonetheless: Ex-Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day – and the date was July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Here's another such wonder, with a trans-Atlantic twist: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born Feb. 12, 1809 – 200 years ago today.
They were born far apart in circumstance as well as distance. But both the dirt-poor Kentuckian and the son of The Mount in Shrewsbury, England, shaped history, Lincoln in government, Darwin in science. It's fair to say that to one of them we owe our enduring Union, and to the other the basis for much of our science. Not bad for a day's work.
But not a day's work, of course – rather two lifetimes' (in Lincoln's case, a life tragically cut short by John Wilkes Booth's bullet in 1865). Lincoln and Darwin, who never met, shared the natural advantage of towering intelligence. They cultivated their gifts by intense labor. They devoted themselves to penetrating studies of the two problems that most engaged them: American slavery and the origin of species.
Their conclusions changed the world. Lincoln rose from rail-splitter to our first Republican president by insisting that slavery must not spread beyond the South and, in the war that came, by defeating disunion (at immense cost in lives North and South) and winning an end to slavery. Darwin's controversial but correct insight was that species have evolved over eons from common ancestors through what he termed natural selection.
In our history and science, the evidence of their lives is all around us. Feb. 12, 1809 was quite a day.