Abraham Lincoln’s dark gray eyes gazed solemnly over the Petersburg battlefield. Only days before he heard the muffled cannons in the distance as he sat pensively on the River Queen docked at City Point. His meeting with Grant had gone well, he thought, but the suffering was beyond unbearable. His eyes begged for it end soon.
And then what? Lincoln hadn’t had time to read this new idea by English recluse and scientist, Charles Darwin, but his good friend Joseph Henry had given him a summary. Darwin and he were born on the exact same day, Lincoln remembered, and though Darwin’s privileged life was considerably different than his own meager upbringing, they both had had dramatic impacts on how the world viewed these men, women, and children derived from Africa.
Ah, that Joseph Henry. Long a friend of Jefferson Davis in the pre-war days, as first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Henry had carried on a lengthy correspondence with famed Harvard botanist Asa Gray, Darwin’s main proponent in the states. Lincoln didn’t quite understand this “natural selection,” as Henry explained it, but he had come to understand his own evolution on the “race question.” “All men are created equal,” he repeated often, just as the Founders has stated in the Declaration of Independence.
Lincoln’s own views had evolved, it’s true, but he had always been convinced that all men, while perhaps not all equal in every way, had a right to expect equal treatment and equal opportunity to better their own condition.
Looking out over the bodies of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice, it was hard to see how anyone’s condition had been bettered in this awful conflict.
Lincoln’s eyes became a little more gray.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.