Neil deGrasse Tyson Pays Homage to Abe Lincoln, the Science Guy

“Abraham Lincoln,” by Matthew Brady. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
“Abraham Lincoln,” by Matthew Brady. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / “Abraham Lincoln,” by Matthew Brady. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When somebody says “Abraham Lincoln,” what comes to mind? Log cabins? Assassination? The Gettysburg Address? What about science? That’s right: Science was an important, but underappreciated, part of Lincoln’s legacy. Neil deGrasse Tyson shares details in an editorial published today in the journal Science.  

The beloved astrophysicist was approached in 2013 in advance of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, which asked him to compose a 272-word speech inspired by the 272-word Gettysburg Address.

Tyson saw the project as an opportunity to shine a light on the 16th president’s overlooked accomplishments. His speech, entitled “The Seedbed,” celebrated Lincoln’s contributions to America’s scientific community. "I offer the speech as a reminder of America’s science legacy; and as an appeal to advance all that this legacy can do for the nation’s future," Tyson writes.

Here's the full text, via Science

One and a half centuries ago, Civil War divided these United States of America. Yet in its wake, we would anneal as one nation, indivisible. During the bloody year of his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln chartered the National Academy of Sciences—comprised of fifty distinguished American researchers whose task was then, as now, to advise Congress and the Executive Branch of all ways the frontier of science may contribute to the health, wealth, and security of its residents. As a young nation, just four score and seven years old, we had plucked the engineering fruits of the Industrial Revolution that transformed Europe, but Americans had yet to embrace the meaning of science to society. Now with more than two thousand members, the National Academy encompasses dozens of fields undreamt of at the time of Lincoln’s charter. Quantum Physics, discovered in the 1920s, now drives nearly one third of the world’s wealth, forming the basis for our computer revolution in the creation, storage, and retrieval of information. And as we continue to warm our planet, Climatology may be our only hope to save us from ourselves.  During the centennial of its charter, President Kennedy addressed the Academy membership, noting, “The range and depth of scientific achievement in this room constitutes the seedbed of our nation’s future.” In this, the twenty-first century, innovations in science and technology form the primary engines of economic growth. While most remember honest Abe for war and peace, and slavery and freedom, the time has come to remember him for setting our Nation on a course of scientifically enlightened governance, without which we all may perish from this Earth.

Lincoln had plenty of motivation to get American science moving. The nature of warfare was changing, and it would take new technology to keep up. Honest Abe was no stranger to science himself: He once devised and patented a system for getting pontoon boats through shallow waters, making him the only president to hold a patent. Years later, presidents Coolidge and Bush (the younger) would follow his example, calling on the academy for evidence-based advice on military preparedness and climate change, respectively. Learn more in the video below.