Did Lincoln read Origin of Species in New York?
History sleuths alert: Our tireless historian Edward Sisson follows up on the question of whether Abraham Lincoln ever read Darwin’s Origin of Species.
Wikipedia took the opportunity of Darwin Day, February 12, to advance the claim that Lincoln read and was impressed by Origin. Darwin’s followers have been trying to link the two men for years, but this may have been the first time they said anything that is demonstrably untrue. The reality seems to be that Lincoln did read and was impressed by a different, design-friendly book, published in 1844.
Darwin’s book didn’t come out until 1859. We know Lincoln was very busy during the relevant period, when the book was published in New York, with a political campaign in hand and a civil war looming. But was Lincoln ever in New York, where the book was on sale? Well, he was there for a few days at that time, but …
Lincoln was speaking in Kansas Nov. 30 to about Dec. 5, 1859, then went back to Illinois. On about Feb. 22, 1860, or so he went to New York City to give the Cooper Union speech on Feb. 27, 1860. this was his “reputation-making” speech, full of details on the Founders’ attitudes towards slavery. Since he was in New York City in late Feb. 1860, at the time Origins was published there, it is physically possible that he got a copy of the book there. It is, however, extremely unlikely. From New York City he went on a New England speaking tour, giving the Cooper Union speech, basically, but also appealing to New England interests:
Feb. 28: Providence, RI
March 1: Manchester and Concord, NH
March 2 & 3: Exeter and Dover, NH
March 5, 6, & 7: Hartford, New Haven, Meriden, CT
March 8: Woonsocket, RI
March 9: Norwich, CT
March 10: Bridgeport, CT
March 12: depart New York City back to Illinois
… where he stayed until he left for the Presidency in Feb. 1861.
Interesting that he deliberately skipped speaking in Boston or anywhere in Massachusetts. I haven’t discovered a documented reason why. As a practical politician, he may have realized that he was getting so much excellent press response from the New York speech that he did not want to risk another big-city appearance that might produce less exciting reports.
Even if Lincoln got a copy of Origins while on this trip, which would be very unlikely for an active and ambitious person seeking the Presidency, he could not have had the leisure to read it until late March or April, 1860, as noted earlier. However, if a commenter comes along to talk about Lincoln being in NYC on Feb. 27, 1860, the foregoing information provides a sufficient rebuttal.
A commenter who insists on such a possibility being history may as well just go to Wikipedia and write it into the record, and Wiki will believe. Many people today prefer a facts optional world.
Donut shop Elvis, meet history.
History, meet … whoops, where did he go, all of a sudden?
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See also: Wikipedia’s Darwinized Lincoln was historically impossible, it turns out