The Earth Day name
According to Senator Nelson, the moniker "Earth Day" was "an obvious and logical name" suggested by "a number of people" in the fall of 1969, including, he writes, both "a friend of mine who had been in the field of public relations" and "a New York advertising executive," Julian Koenig. Koenig, who had been on Nelson's organizing committee in 1969, has said that the idea came to him by the coincidence of his birthday with the day selected, April 22; "Earth Day" rhyming with "birthday," the connection seemed natural. Other names circulated during preparations—Nelson himself continued to call it the National Environment Teach-In, but press coverage of the event was "practically unanimous" in its use of "Earth Day," so the name stuck.
Earth Day Network
Earth Day Network was founded by Denis Hayes and the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970 and by other national organizers, including Pam Lippe, to promote environmental activism and year-round progressive action, domestically and internationally. Earth Day Network members include NGOs, quasi-governmental agencies, local governments, activists, and others. Earth Day Network members focus on environmental education; local, national, and global policies; public environmental campaigns; and organizing national and local earth day events to promote activism and environmental protection. The international network reaches over 19,000 organizations in 192 countries, while the domestic program engages 10,000 groups and over 100,000 educators coordinating millions of community development and environmental-protection activities throughout the year.
In observance of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, Earth Day Network created multiple global initiatives, ranging from a Global Day of Conversation with mayors worldwide, focusing on bringing green investment and building a green economy; Athletes for the Earth Campaign that brings Olympic, professional, and every day athletes' voices to help promote a solution to climate change; a Billion Acts of Green Campaign which will aggregate the millions of environmental service commitments that individuals and organizations around the world make each year; to Artist for the Earth, a campaign the involves hundreds of arts institutions and artists worldwide to create environmental awareness. EDN mobilized 1.5 billion people in 170 countries to participate in these global events and programs.
EDN has helped create Earth Day organizations worldwide.
Earth Day Canada
The first Canadian Earth Day was held on Thursday, September 11, 1980, and was organized by Paul D. Tinari, then a graduate student in Engineering Physics/Solar Engineering at Queen's University. Flora MacDonald, then MP for Kingston and the Islands and Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, officially opened Earth Day Week on September 6, 1980 with a ceremonial tree planting and encouraged MPs and MPPs across the country to declare a cross-Canada annual Earth Day. The principal activities taking place on the first Earth Day included educational lectures given by experts in various environmental fields, garbage and litter pick-up by students along city roads and highways as well as tree plantings to replace the trees killed by Dutch Elm Disease.
Earth Day Canada (EDC), a national environmental charity founded in 1990, provides Canadians with the practical knowledge and tools they need to lessen their impact on the environment. In 2004, it was recognized as the top environmental education organization in North America, for its innovative year-round programs and educational resources, by the Washington-based North American Association for Environmental Education, the world's largest association of environmental educators. In 2008, it was chosen as Canada's "Outstanding Non-profit Organization" by the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication. EDC regularly partners with thousands of organizations in all parts of Canada. EDC hosts a suite of six environmental programs: Ecokids, EcoMentors, EcoAction Teams, Community Environment Fund, Hometown Heroes and the Toyota Earth Day Scholarship Program.
History of the Equinox Earth Day
The equinoctial Earth Day is celebrated on the March equinox (around March 20) to mark the precise moment of astronomical mid-spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and of astronomical mid-autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. An equinox in astronomy is that moment in time (not a whole day) when the center of the Sun can be observed to be directly "above" the Earth's equator, occurring around March 20 and September 23 each year. In most cultures, the equinoxes and solstices are considered to start or separate the seasons.
John McConnell first introduced the idea of a global holiday called "Earth Day" at the 1969 UNESCO Conference on the Environment. The first Earth Day proclamation was issued by San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto on March 21, 1970. Celebrations were held in various cities, such as San Francisco and in Davis, California with a multi-day street party. UN Secretary-General U Thant supported McConnell's global initiative to celebrate this annual event; and on February 26, 1971, he signed a proclamation to that effect, saying:
May there be only peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life.
United Nations secretary-general Kurt Waldheim observed Earth Day with similar ceremonies on the March equinox in 1972, and the United Nations Earth Day ceremony has continued each year since on the day of the March equinox (the United Nations also works with organizers of the April 22 global event). Margaret Mead added her support for the equinox Earth Day, and in 1978 declared:
"Earth Day is the first holy day which transcends all national borders, yet preserves all geographical integrities, spans mountains and oceans and time belts, and yet brings people all over the world into one resonating accord, is devoted to the preservation of the harmony in nature and yet draws upon the triumphs of technology, the measurement of time, and instantaneous communication through space.
Earth Day draws on astronomical phenomena in a new way – which is also the most ancient way – by using the vernal Equinox, the time when the Sun crosses the equator making the length of night and day equal in all parts of the Earth. To this point in the annual calendar, EARTH DAY attaches no local or divisive set of symbols, no statement of the truth or superiority of one way of life over another. But the selection of the March Equinox makes planetary observance of a shared event possible, and a flag which shows the Earth, as seen from space, appropriate."
At the moment of the equinox, it is traditional to observe Earth Day by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell, which was donated by Japan to the United Nations. Over the years, celebrations have occurred in various places worldwide at the same time as the UN celebration. On March 20, 2008, in addition to the ceremony at the United Nations, ceremonies were held in New Zealand, and bells were sounded in California, Vienna, Paris, Lithuania, Tokyo and many other locations. The equinox Earth Day at the UN is organized by the Earth Society Foundation.
April 22 observances
Growing eco-activism before Earth Day 1970:
In 1968, Morton Hilbert and the U.S. Public Health Service organized the Human Ecology Symposium, an environmental conference for students to hear from scientists about the effects of environmental degradation on human health. This was the beginning of Earth Day. For the next two years, Hilbert and students worked to plan the first Earth Day. In the spring of 1970—along with a federal proclamation from U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson—the first Earth Day was held.
Project Survival, an early environmentalism-awareness education event, was held at Northwestern University on January 23, 1970. This was the first of several events held at university campuses across the United States in the lead-up to the first Earth Day. Also, Ralph Nader began talking about the importance of ecology in 1970.
The 1960s had been a very dynamic period for ecology in the US. Pre-1960 grassroots activism against DDT in Nassau County, New York, had inspired Rachel Carson to write her bestseller, Silent Spring (1962).
Significance of April 22:
Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an "environmental teach-in". He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet as it did not fall during exams or spring breaks. Moreover, it did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events—so he chose Wednesday, April 22.
Unbeknownst to Nelson, April 22, 1970, was coincidentally the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin. Time reported that some suspected the date was not a coincidence, but a clue that the event was "a Communist trick", and quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution as saying, "subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them." J. Edgar Hoover, director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, may have found the Lenin connection intriguing; it was alleged the FBI conducted surveillance at the 1970 demonstrations. The idea that the date was chosen to celebrate Lenin's centenary still persists in some quarters although Lenin was never noted as an environmentalist.
In Nebraska, Arbor Day happens to fall on April 22, that being the birthday of Julius Sterling Morton, the founder of the national tree-planting holiday that started in 1872 and which has been a legal holiday in the state since 1885. According to the National Arbor Day Foundation "the most common day for the state observances is the last Friday in April ... but a number of state Arbor Days are at other times in order to coincide with the best tree-planting weather." It has since been largely eclipsed by the more widely observed Earth Day, except in Nebraska, where it originated.
Earth Day ecology flag:
According to Flags of the World, the Ecology Flag was created by cartoonist Ron Cobb, published on November 7, 1969, in the Los Angeles Free Press, then placed in the public domain. The symbol is a combination of the letters "E" and "O" taken from the words "Environment" and "Organism," respectively. The flag is patterned after the United States' flag, with thirteen alternating-green-and-whites stripes. Its canton is green with a yellow theta. Later flags used either a theta or the peace symbol. Theta would later become associated with Earth Day.
As a 16-year-old high school student, Betsy Vogel, an environmental advocate and social activist who enjoyed sewing costumes and unique gifts, made a 4 x 6-foot (1.8 m) green-and-white "theta" ecology flag to commemorate the first Earth Day. Initially denied permission to fly the flag at C. E. Byrd High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, Vogel sought and received authorization from the Louisiana State Legislature and Louisiana Governor John McKeithen in time to display the flag for Earth Day.
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Earth Day is a day that is intended to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's natural environment. Earth Day was founded by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970. While this first Earth Day was focused on the United States, an organization launched by Denis Hayes, who was the original national coordinator in 1970, took it international in 1990 and organized events in 141 nations. Earth Day is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, and is celebrated in more than 175 countries every year. Numerous communities celebrate Earth Week, an entire week of activities focused on environmental issues. In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 International Mother Earth Day.
The first Earth Day
Responding to widespread environmental degradation, Gaylord Nelson, a United States Senator from Wisconsin, called for an environmental teach-in, or Earth Day, to be held on April 22, 1970. Over 20 million people participated that year, and Earth Day is now observed on April 22 each year by more than 500 million people and several national governments in 175 countries.
Senator Nelson, an environmental activist, took a leading role in organizing the celebration, hoping to demonstrate popular political support for an environmental agenda. He modeled it on the highly effective Vietnam War teach-ins of the time. Earth Day was first proposed in a prospectus to JFK written by Fred Dutton. However, Nelson decided against much of Dutton's top-down approach, favoring a decentralized, grassroots effort in which each community shaped their action around local concerns.
Nelson had conceived the idea for Earth Day following a trip he took to Santa Barbara right after the horrific oil spill off the coast in 1969. Outraged by the devastation and Washington political inertia, Nelson proposed a national teach-in on the environment to be observed by every university campus in the U.S.
I am convinced that all we need to do to bring an overwhelming insistence of the new generation that we stem the tide of environmental disaster is to present the facts clearly and dramatically. To marshal such an effort, I am proposing a national teach-in on the crisis of the environment to be held next spring on every university campus across the Nation. The crisis is so imminent, in my opinion, that every university should set aside 1 day in the school year-the same day across the Nation-for the teach-in.
One of the organizers of the event said:
"We're going to be focusing an enormous amount of public interest on a whole, wide range of environmental events, hopefully in such a manner that it's going to be drawing the interrelationships between them and, getting people to look at the whole thing as one consistent kind of picture, a picture of a society that's rapidly going in the wrong direction that has to be stopped and turned around.
"It's going to be an enormous affair, I think. We have groups operating now in about 12,000 high schools, 2,000 colleges and universities and a couple of thousand other community groups. It's safe to say I think that the number of people who will be participating in one way or another is going to be ranging in the millions."
Nelson announced his idea for a nationwide teach-in day on the environment in a speech to a fledgling conservation group in Seattle on September 20, 1969, and then again six days later in Atlantic City to a meeting of the United Auto Workers. Senator Nelson hoped that a grassroots outcry about environmental issues might prove to Washington, D.C. just how distressed Americans were in every constituency. Senator Nelson invited Republican Representative Paul N “Pete” McCloskey to serve as his co-chair and they incorporated a new non-profit organization, environmental Teach-In, Inc., to stimulate participation across the country. Both continued to give speeches plugging the event.
On September 29, 1969, in a long, front-page New York Times article, Gladwin Hill wrote:
"Rising concern about the "environmental crisis" is sweeping the nation's campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam...a national day of observance of environmental problems, analogous to the mass demonstrations on Vietnam, is being planned for next spring, when a nationwide environmental 'teach-in'...coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned...."
Denis Hayes, a Harvard graduate student, read the NYT article and traveled to Washington to get involved. He had been student body president and a campus activist at Stanford University in McCloskey’s district and where Teach-In board member Paul Ehrlich was a professor. He thought he might be asked to organize Boston. Instead, Nelson eventually asked Hayes to drop out of Harvard, assemble a staff, and direct the effort to organize the United States. Hayes would go on to become a widely recognized environmental advocate.
Hayes recruited a handful of young college graduates to come to Washington, D.C. and began to plan what would become the first Earth Day.
Nelson's suggestion was difficult to implement, as the Earth Day movement proved to be autonomous with no central governing body. As Senator Nelson attests, it simply grew on its own:
Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.
On April 22, 1970, Earth Day marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Approximately 20 million Americans participated. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, Freeway and expressway revolts, the loss of wilderness, and air pollution suddenly realized they shared common values.
Media coverage of the first Earth Day included a One-Hour Prime-time CBS News Special Report called "Earth Day: A Question of Survival," with correspondents reporting from a dozen major cities across the country, and narrated by Walter Cronkite (whose backdrop was the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia's logo).
Pete Seeger was a keynote speaker and performer at the event held in Washington DC. Paul Newman and Ali McGraw attended the event held in New York City.
Earth Day 1970 in New York City
In the winter of 1969-1970, a group of students met at Columbia University to hear Denis Hayes talk about his plans for Earth Day. Among the group were Fred Kent, Pete Grannis, and Kristin and William Hubbard. This New York group agreed to head up the New York City part of the national movement. Fred Kent took the lead in renting an office and recruiting volunteers. "The big break came when Mayor Lindsay agreed to shut down 5th Avenue for the event. A giant cheer went up in the office on that day," according to Kristin Hubbard (now Kristin Alexandre). 'From that time on we used Mayor Lindsay's offices and even his staff. I was Speaker Coordinator but had tremendous help from Lindsay staffer Judith Crichton."
In addition to shutting down Fifth Avenue, Mayor Lindsay made Central Park available for Earth Day. The crowd was estimated as more than one million—by far the largest in the nation. Since New York was also the home of NBC, CBS, ABC, the New York Times, Time, and Newsweek, it provided the best possible anchor for national coverage from their reporters all over the country.
Earth Day 1970 in Philadelphia
Earth Day 1970 in Philadelphia gave birth to Earth Week, April 16–22. It was created by a committee of students (mostly from University of Pennsylvania), professionals, leaders of grass roots organizations and businessmen concerned about the environment and inspired by Senator Gaylord Nelson’s call for a national environmental teach-in. The Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia concluded that devoting only one day to the environment would not provide enough time and space to paint a comprehensive picture of the environmental issues confronting mankind. While all of their activities would build toward a climactic Earth Day celebration on April 22, there would also be an entire week of events in the week preceding.
Austan Librach, a regional planning graduate student, assumed the role of Committee Chairman and hired Edward Furia, who had just received his City Planning and Law Degrees from University of Pennsylvania, to be Project Director. The core group from Penn was joined in 1970 by students from other area colleges which, working together, organized scores of educational activities, scientific symposia and major mass media events in the Delaware Valley Region in and around Philadelphia. The Earth Week Committee of 33 members settled on a common objective—to raise public awareness of environmental problems and their potential solutions.
U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie was the keynote speaker on Earth Day in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Other notable attendees included consumer protection activist and presidential candidate Ralph Nader; Landscape Architect Ian McHarg; Nobel prize-winning Harvard Biochemist, George Wald; U.S. Senate Minority Leader, Hugh Scott; and poet, Allen Ginsberg. Forty years later, the Earth Week Committee decided to make rare photos, video and other previously unpublished information about the history of Earth Week 1970 available to the public at EarthWeek.us.
Many cities now extend the observance of Earth Day events to an entire week, usually starting on April 16 and ending on Earth Day, April 22. These events are designed to encourage environmentally aware behaviors, such as recycling, using energy efficiently, and reducing or reusing disposable items.
Results of Earth Day 1970
Earth Day proved popular in the United States and around the world. The first Earth Day had participants and celebrants in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. More importantly, it "brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform."
Senator Nelson stated that Earth Day "worked" because of the response at the grassroots level. Twenty-million demonstrators and thousands of schools and local communities participated. He directly credited the first Earth Day with persuading U.S. politicians that environmental legislation had a substantial, lasting constituency.
It is now observed in 175 countries, and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, according to whom Earth Day is now "the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a half billion people every year." Environmental groups have sought to make Earth Day into a day of action which changes human behavior and provokes policy changes.
Earth Day 20 and Earth Day 1990
Mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting the status of environmental issues onto the world stage, Earth Day activities in 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Unlike the first Earth Day in 1970, this 20th Anniversary was waged with stronger marketing tools, greater access to television and radio, and multimillion-dollar budgets.
Two separate groups formed to sponsor Earth Day events in 1990: The Earth Day 20 Foundation, assembled by Edward Furia (Project Director of Earth Week in 1970), and Earth Day 1990, assembled by Denis Hayes (National Coordinator for Earth Day 1970). Senator Gaylord Nelson, the original founder of Earth Day, was honorary chairman for both groups. The two did not combine forces over disagreements about leadership of combined organization and incompatible structures and strategies. Among the disagreements, key Earth Day 20 Foundation organizers were critical of Earth Day 1990 for including on their board Hewlett Packard, a company that at the time was the second-biggest emitter of chlorofluorocarbons in Silicon Valley and refused to switch to alternative solvents. In terms of marketing, Earth Day 20 had a grassroots approach to organizing and relied largely on locally based groups like the National Toxics Campaign, a Boston-based coalition of 1,000 local groups concerned with industrial pollution. Earth Day 1990 employed strategies including focus group testing, direct mail fund raising, and email marketing.
The Earth Day 20 Foundation highlighted its April 22 activities in George, Washington, near the Columbia River with a live satellite phone call with members of the historic Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb who called from their base camp on Mount Everest to pledge their support for world peace and attention to environmental issues. The Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb was led by Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mt. Everest (many years earlier), and marked the first time in history that mountaineers from the United States, Soviet Union and China had roped together to climb a mountain, let alone Mt. Everest. The group also collected over two tons of trash (transported down the mountain by support groups along the way) that was left behind on Mount Everest from previous climbing expeditions. The master of ceremonies for the Columbia Gorge event was the TV star, John Ratzenberger, from "Cheers", and the headlining musician was the "Father of Rock and Roll," Chuck Berry.
Earth Day 2000
Earth Day 2000 combined the ambitious spirit of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. This was the first year that Earth Day used the Internet as its principal organizing tool, and it proved invaluable domestically and internationally. Kelly Evans, a professional political organizer, served as Executive Director of the 2000 campaign. The event ultimately enlisted more than 5,000 environmental groups outside the United States, reaching hundreds of millions of people in a record 183 countries. Leonardo DiCaprio was the official host for the event, and about 400,000 participants stood in the cold rain during the course of the day.
Subsequent Earth Day events
To turn Earth Day into a sustainable annual event rather than one that occurred every 10 years, Senator Nelson and Bruce Anderson, New Hampshire's lead organizer in 1990, formed Earth Day USA. Building on the momentum created by thousands of community organizers around the world, Earth Day USA coordinated the next five Earth Day celebrations through 1995, including the launch of EarthDay.org. Following the 25th Anniversary in 1995, the coordination baton was handed to Earth Day Network.
As the millennium approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead another campaign, this time focusing on global warming and pushing for clean energy. The April 22 Earth Day in 2000 combined the big-picture feistiness of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. For 2000, Earth Day had the Internet to help link activists around the world. By the time April 22 came around, 5,000 environmental groups around the world were on board, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people in a record 184 countries. Events varied: A talking drum chain traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, for example, while hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., USA.
Earth Day 2007 was one of the largest Earth Days to date, with an estimated billion people participating in the activities in thousands of places like Kiev, Ukraine; Caracas, Venezuela; Tuvalu; Manila, Philippines; Togo; Madrid, Spain; London; and New York.
In his foreign policy, Hitler combined opportunism and clever timing. He showed astonishing skill in judging the mood of the democratic leaders and exploiting their weaknesses—in spite of the fact that he had scarcely set foot outside Austria and Germany and spoke no foreign language. Up to this point every move had been successful. Even his anxiety over British and French entry into the war was dispelled by the rapid success of the campaign in Poland. He could, he thought, rely on his talents during the war as he relied on them before.
World War II
Germany's war strategy was assumed by Hitler from the first. When the successful campaign against Poland failed to produce the desired peace accord with Britain, he ordered the army to prepare for an immediate offensive in the west. Bad weather made some of his reluctant generals postpone the western offensive. This in turn led to two major changes in planning. The first was Hitler's order to forestall an eventual British presence in Norway by occupying that country and Denmark in April 1940. Hitler took a close personal interest in this daring operation. From this time onward his intervention in the detail of military operations grew steadily greater. The second was Hitler's important adoption of General Erich von Manstein's plan for an attack through the Ardennes (which began May 10) instead of farther north. This was a brilliant and startling success. The German armies reached the Channel ports (which they had been unable to reach during World War I) in 10 days. Holland surrendered after 4 days and Belgium after 16 days. Hitler held back General Karl von Rundstedt's tanks south of Dunkirk, thus enabling the British to evacuate most of their army. But the Western campaign as a whole was amazingly successful. On June 10 Italy entered the war on the side of Germany. On June 22 Hitler signed a triumphant armistice with the French on the site of the Armistice of 1918.
Hitler hoped that the British would negotiate an armistice. When this did not happen, he proceeded to plan the invasion of Britain, together with the elimination of British air power. At the same time preparations were begun for the invasion of the Soviet Union, which in Hitler's view was Britain's last hope for a bulwark against German control of the continent. Then Mussolini invaded Greece, where the failures of the Italian armies made it necessary for German forces to come to their aid in the Balkans and North Africa. Hitler's plans were further disrupted by a coup d'état in Yugoslavia in March 1941, overthrowing the government that had made an agreement with Germany. Hitler immediately ordered his armies to subdue Yugoslavia. The campaigns in the Mediterranean theatre, although successful, were limited, compared to the invasion of Russia. Hitler would spare few forces from “Operation Barbarossa,” the planned invasion of the Soviet Union.
The attack against the U.S.S.R. was launched on June 22, 1941. The German army advanced swiftly into the Soviet Union, corralling almost three million Russian prisoners, but it failed to destroy its Russian opponent. Hitler became overbearing in his relations with his generals. He disagreed with them about the object of the main attack, and he wasted time and strength by failing to concentrate on a single objective. In December 1941, a few miles before Moscow, a Russian counteroffensive finally made it clear that Hitler's hopes of a single campaign could not be realized.
On December 7, the next day, the Japanese attacked U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor. Hitler's alliance with Japan forced him to declare war on the United States. From this moment on his entire strategy changed. He hoped and tried (like his idol Frederick II the Great) to break what he deemed was the unnatural coalition of his opponents by forcing one or the other of them to make peace. (In the end, the “unnatural” coalition between Stalin and Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt did break up, but too late for Hitler.) He also ordered the reorganization of the German economy on a full wartime basis.
Meanwhile, Himmler prepared the ground for a “new order” in Europe. From 1933 to 1939 and in some instances even during the first years of the war, Hitler's purpose was to expel the Jews from the Greater German Reich. In 1941 this policy changed from expulsion to extermination. The concentration camps created under the Nazi regime were thereby expanded to include extermination camps, such as Auschwitz, and mobile extermination squads, the Einsatzgruppen. Although Catholics, Poles, homosexuals, Roma (Gypsies), and the handicapped were targeted for persecution, if not outright extermination, the Jews of Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union were by far the most numerous among the victims; in German-occupied Europe some 6,000,000 Jews were killed during the war. The sufferings of other peoples were only less when measured in their numbers killed.
At the end of 1942, defeat at El-Alamein and at Stalingrad and the American landing in French North Africa brought the turning point in the war, and Hitler's character and way of life began to change. Directing operations from his headquarters in the east, he refused to visit bombed cities or to allow some withdrawals, and he became increasingly dependent on his physician, Theodor Morell, and on the large amounts and varieties of medicines he ingested. Yet Hitler had not lost the power to react vigorously in the face of misfortune. After the arrest of Mussolini in July 1943 and the Italian armistice, he not only directed the occupation of all important positions held by the Italian army but also ordered the rescue of Mussolini, with the intention that he should head a new fascist government. On the eastern front, however, there was less and less possibility of holding up the advance. Relations with his army commanders grew strained, the more so with the growing importance given to the SS ( Schutzstaffel) divisions. Meanwhile, the general failure of the U-boat campaign and the bombing of Germany made chances of German victory very unlikely.
Desperate officers and anti-Nazi civilians became ready to remove Hitler and negotiate a peace. Several attempts on Hitler's life were planned in 1943–44; the most nearly successful was made on July 20, 1944, when Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg exploded a bomb at a conference at Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia. But Hitler escaped with superficial injuries, and, with few exceptions, those implicated in the plot were executed. The reduction of the army's independence was now made complete; National Socialist political officers were appointed to all military headquarters.
Thereafter, Hitler was increasingly ill; but he did not relax or lose control, and he continued to exercise an almost hypnotic power over his close subordinates, none of whom wielded any independent authority. The Allied invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944) marked the beginning of the end. Within a few months, eight European capitals (Rome, Paris, Brussels, Bucharest, Sofia, Athens, Belgrade, Helsinki) were liberated by the Allies or surrendered to them. In December 1944 Hitler moved his headquarters to the west to direct an offensive in the Ardennes aimed at splitting the American and the British armies. When this failed, his hopes for victory became ever more visionary, based on the use of new weapons (German rockets had been fired on London since June 1944) or on the breakup of the Allied Powers.
After January 1945 Hitler never left the Chancellery in Berlin or its bunker, abandoning a plan to lead a final resistance in the south as the Soviet forces closed in on Berlin. In a state of extreme nervous exhaustion, he at last accepted the inevitability of defeat and thereupon prepared to take his own life, leaving to its fate the country over which he had taken absolute command. Before this, two further acts remained. At midnight on April 28–29 he married Eva Braun. Immediately afterward he dictated his political testament, justifying his career and appointing Admiral Karl Dönitz as head of the state and Josef Goebbels as chancellor.
On April 30 he said farewell to Goebbels and the few others remaining, then retired to his suite and shot himself. His wife took poison. In accordance with his instructions, their bodies were burned.
Hitler's success was due to the susceptibility of postwar Germany to his unique talents as a national leader. His rise to power was not inevitable; yet there was no one who equalled his ability to exploit and shape events to his own ends. The power that he wielded was unprecedented, both in its scope and in the technical resources at its command. His ideas and purposes were accepted in whole or in part by millions of people, especially in Germany but also elsewhere. By the time he was defeated, he had destroyed most of what was left of old Europe, while the German people had to face what they would later call “Year Zero,” 1945.
Hitler's place in history
At the turn of the 21st century more books had been written about Hitler since his death than about Napoleon during the half-century after the latter's demise. Time and distance from the events of World War II have also affected the historical interpretation of Hitler.
There is a general consensus about his historical importance (a term that does not imply a positive judgment). Hitler was principally, and alone, responsible for starting World War II. (This was different from the various responsibilities of rulers and of statesmen who had unleashed World War I). His guilt for the implementation of the Holocaust—that is, the shift of German policy from the expulsion to the extermination of Jews, including eventually Jews of all of Europe and of European Russia, is also obvious. Although there exists no single document of his order to that effect, Hitler's speeches, writings, reports of discussions with associates and foreign statesmen, and testimony by those who carried out the actions have often been cited as evidence of his role. Many of his most violent statements were recorded by his minions during his “Table Talks” (including the not entirely authentic “Bormann remarks” of February–April 1945). For example, on January 30, 1939, to celebrate the sixth anniversary of his rule, Hitler told the Reichstag: “Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more in a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the Earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”
In his final will and testament, written just before his suicide in April 1945, he charged the Germans to continue the struggle against the Jews: “Above all, I enjoin the government and the people to uphold the race laws to the limit and to resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations, international Jewry.”
Despite the immense mass of surviving German documents (and the large volume of his recorded speeches and other statements) Hitler was, as he himself said on a few occasions, a secretive man; and some of his views and decisions differed at times from his public expressions.
For a long time historians and other commentators took it for granted that Hitler's wishes and ambitions and ideology were clearly (and frighteningly) set forth in Mein Kampf. In the first, autobiographical, portion of Mein Kampf, however, he twisted the truth in at least three matters: his relationship to his father (which was very different from the filial affection he had set forth in Mein Kampf); the conditions of his life in Vienna (which were less marked by abject poverty than he had stated); and the crystallization of his worldview, including his anti-Semitism, during his Vienna years (the evidence now suggests that this crystallization occurred much later, in Munich).
The popular view of Hitler often involves assumptions about his mental health. There has been a tendency to attribute madness to Hitler. Despite the occasional evidences of his furious outbursts, Hitler's cruelties and his most extreme expressions and orders suggest a cold brutality that was fully conscious. The attribution of madness to Hitler would of course absolve him from his responsibility for his deeds and words (as it also absolves the responsibility of those who are unwilling to think further about him). Extensive researches of his medical records also indicate that, at least until the last 10 months of his life, he was not profoundly handicapped by illness (except for advancing symptoms of Parkinson disease). What is indisputable is that Hitler had a certain tendency to hypochondria; that he ingested vast amounts of medications during the war; and that as early as 1938 he convinced himself that he would not live long—which may have been a reason for speeding up his timetable for conquest at that time. It should also be noted that Hitler possessed mental abilities that were denied by some of his earlier critics: these included an astonishing memory for certain details and an instinctive insight into his opponents' weaknesses. Again, these talents increase, rather than diminish, his responsibility for the many brutal and evil actions he ordered and committed.
His most amazing achievement was his uniting the great mass of the German (and Austrian) people behind him. Throughout his career his popularity was larger and deeper than the popularity of the National Socialist Party. A great majority of Germans believed in him until the very end. In this respect he stands out among almost all of the dictators of the 19th and 20th centuries, which is especially impressive when we consider that the Germans were among the best-educated peoples in the 20th century. There is no question that the overwhelming majority of the German people supported Hitler, though often only passively. Their trust in him was greater than their trust in the Nazi hierarchy. Of course, what contributed to this support were the economic and social successes, for which he fully took credit, during his early leadership: the virtual disappearance of unemployment, the rising prosperity of the masses, the new social institutions, and the increase of German prestige in the 1930s—achievements unparalleled in the histories of other modern totalitarian dictatorships. In spite of the spiritual and intellectual progenitors of some of his ideas there is no German national leader to whom he may be compared. In sum, he had no forerunners—another difference between him and other dictators.
By 1938 Hitler had made Germany the most powerful and feared country in Europe (and perhaps in the world). He achieved all of this without war (and there are now some historians who state that had he died in 1938 before the mass executions began, he would have gone down in history as the greatest statesman in the history of the German people). In fact, he came very close to winning the war in 1940; but the resistance of Britain (personified by Winston Churchill) thwarted him. Nevertheless, it took the overwhelming, and in many ways unusual, Anglo-American coalition with the Soviet Union to defeat the Third Reich; and there are reasons to believe that neither side would have been able to conquer him alone. At the same time it was his brutality and some of his decisions that led to his destruction, binding the unusual alliance of capitalists and communists, of Churchill and Roosevelt and Stalin together. Hitler thought he was a great statesman, but he did not realize the unconditional contemptibility of what he had unleashed; he thought that the coalition of his enemies would eventually break up, and then he would be able to settle with one side or the other. In thinking thus he deceived himself, though such wishes and hopes were also current among many Germans until the end.
Open and hidden admirers of Hitler continue to exist (and not only in Germany): some of them because of a malign attraction to the efficacy of evil; others because of their admiration of Hitler's achievements, no matter how transitory or brutal. However, because of the brutalities and the very crimes associated with his name, it is not likely that Hitler's reputation as the incarnation of evil will ever change.
Born April 20, 1889, Braunau am Inn, Austria—died April 30, 1945, Berlin, Germany) leader of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party (from 1920/21) and chancellor ( Kanzler) and Führer of Germany (1933–45). He was chancellor from January 30, 1933, and, after President Paul von Hindenburg's death, assumed the twin titles of Führer and chancellor (August 2, 1934).
Hitler's father, Alois (born 1837), was illegitimate. For a time he bore his mother's name, Schicklgruber, but by 1876 he had established his family claim to the surname Hitler. Adolf never used any other surname.
After his father's retirement from the state customs service, Adolf Hitler spent most of his childhood in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. It remained his favourite city throughout his life, and he expressed his wish to be buried there. Alois Hitler died in 1903 but left an adequate pension and savings to support his wife and children. Although Hitler feared and disliked his father, he was a devoted son to his mother, who died after much suffering in 1907. With a mixed record as a student, Hitler never advanced beyond a secondary education. After leaving school, he visited Vienna, then returned to Linz, where he dreamed of becoming an artist. Later, he used the small allowance he continued to draw to maintain himself in Vienna. He wished to study art, for which he had some faculties, but he twice failed to secure entry to the Academy of Fine Arts. For some years he lived a lonely and isolated life, earning a precarious livelihood by painting postcards and advertisements and drifting from one municipal hostel to another. Hitler already showed traits that characterized his later life: loneliness and secretiveness, a bohemian mode of everyday existence, and hatred of cosmopolitanism and of the multinational character of Vienna.
In 1913 Hitler moved to Munich. Screened for Austrian military service in February 1914, he was classified as unfit because of inadequate physical vigour; but when World War I broke out he immediately volunteered for the German army and joined the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. He served throughout the war, was wounded in October 1916, and was gassed two years later. He was hospitalized when the conflict ended. During the war, he was continuously in the front line as a headquarters runner; his bravery in action was rewarded with the Iron Cross, Second Class, in December 1914, and the Iron Cross, First Class (a rare decoration for a corporal), in August 1918. He greeted the war with enthusiasm, as a great relief from the frustration and aimlessness of civilian life. He found discipline and comradeship satisfying and was confirmed in his belief in the heroic virtues of war.
Rise to power
Discharged from the hospital amid the social chaos that followed Germany's defeat, Hitler took up political work in Munich in May–June 1919. As an army political agent, he joined the small German Workers' Party in Munich (September 1919). In 1920 he was put in charge of the party's propaganda and left the army to devote himself to improving his position within the party, which in that year was renamed the National-sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (Nazi). Conditions were ripe for the development of such a party. Resentment at the loss of the war and the severity of the peace terms added to the economic woes and brought widespread discontent. This was especially sharp in Bavaria, due to its traditional separatism and the region's popular dislike of the republican government in Berlin. In March 1920 a coup d'état by a few army officers attempted in vain to establish a right-wing government.
Munich was a gathering place for dissatisfied former servicemen and members of the Freikorps, which had been organized in 1918–19 from units of the German army that were unwilling to return to civilian life, and for political plotters against the republic. Many of these joined the Nazi Party. Foremost among them was Ernst Röhm, a staff member of the district army command, who had joined the German Workers' Party before Hitler and who was of great help in furthering Hitler's rise within the party. It was he who recruited the “strong arm” squads used by Hitler to protect party meetings, to attack socialists and communists, and to exploit violence for the impression of strength it gave. In 1921 these squads were formally organized under Röhm into a private party army, the SA (Sturmabteilung). Röhm was also able to secure protection from the Bavarian government, which depended on the local army command for the maintenance of order and which tacitly accepted some of his terrorist tactics.
Conditions were favourable for the growth of the small party, and Hitler was sufficiently astute to take full advantage of them. When he joined the party, he found it ineffective, committed to a program of nationalist and socialist ideas but uncertain of its aims and divided in its leadership. He accepted its program but regarded it as a means to an end. His propaganda and his personal ambition caused friction with the other leaders of the party. Hitler countered their attempts to curb him by threatening resignation, and because the future of the party depended on his power to organize publicity and to acquire funds, his opponents relented. In July 1921 he became their leader with almost unlimited powers. From the first he set out to create a mass movement, whose mystique and power would be sufficient to bind its members in loyalty to him. He engaged in unrelenting propaganda through the party newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter (“Popular Observer,” acquired in 1920), and through meetings whose audiences soon grew from a handful to thousands. With his charismatic personality and dynamic leadership, he attracted a devoted cadre of Nazi leaders, men whose names today live in infamy— Alfred Rosenberg, Rudolf Hess, Hermann Göring, and Julius Streicher.
The climax of this rapid growth of the Nazi Party in Bavaria came in an attempt to seize power in the Munich (Beer Hall) Putsch of November 1923, when Hitler and General Erich Ludendorff tried to take advantage of the prevailing confusion and opposition to the Weimar Republic to force the leaders of the Bavarian government and the local army commander to proclaim a national revolution. In the melee that resulted, the police and the army fired at the advancing marchers, killing a few of them. Hitler was injured, and four policemen were killed. Placed on trial for treason, he characteristically took advantage of the immense publicity afforded to him. He also drew a vital lesson from the Putsch—that the movement must achieve power by legal means. He was sentenced to prison for five years but served only nine months, and those in relative comfort at Landsberg castle. Hitler used the time to dictate the first volume of Mein Kampf, his political autobiography as well as a compendium of his multitudinous ideas.
Hitler's ideas included inequality among races, nations, and individuals as part of an unchangeable natural order that exalted the “Aryan race” as the creative element of mankind. According to Hitler, the natural unit of mankind was the Volk (“the people”), of which the German people was the greatest. Moreover, he believed that the state existed to serve the Volk—a mission that to him the Weimar German Republic betrayed. All morality and truth were judged by this criterion: whether it was in accordance with the interest and preservation of the Volk. Parliamentary democratic government stood doubly condemned. It assumed the equality of individuals that for Hitler did not exist and supposed that what was in the interests of the Volk could be decided by parliamentary procedures. Instead, Hitler argued that the unity of the Volk would find its incarnation in the Führer, endowed with perfect authority. Below the Führer the party was drawn from the Volk and was in turn its safeguard.
The greatest enemy of Nazism was not, in Hitler's view, liberal democracy in Germany, which was already on the verge of collapse. It was the rival Weltanschauung, Marxism (which for him embraced social democracy as well as communism), with its insistence on internationalism and economic conflict. Beyond Marxism he believed the greatest enemy of all to be the Jew, who was for Hitler the incarnation of evil. There is debate among historians as to when anti-Semitism became Hitler's deepest and strongest conviction. As early as 1919 he wrote, “Rational anti-Semitism must lead to systematic legal opposition. Its final objective must be the removal of the Jews altogether.” In Mein Kampf, he described the Jew as the “destroyer of culture,” “a parasite within the nation,” and “a menace.”
During Hitler's absence in prison, the Nazi Party languished as the result of internal dissension. After his release, Hitler faced difficulties that had not existed before 1923. Economic stability had been achieved by a currency reform and the Dawes Plan had scaled back Germany's World War I reparations. The republic seemed to have become more respectable. Hitler was forbidden to make speeches, first in Bavaria, then in many other German states (these prohibitions remained in force until 1927–28). Nevertheless, the party grew slowly in numbers, and in 1926 Hitler successfully established his position within it against Gregor Strasser, whose followers were primarily in northern Germany.
The advent of the Depression in 1929, however, led to a new period of political instability. In 1930 Hitler made an alliance with the Nationalist Alfred Hugenberg in a campaign against the Young Plan, a second renegotiation of Germany's war reparation payments. With the help of Hugenberg's newspapers, Hitler was able for the first time to reach a nationwide audience. The alliance also enabled him to seek support from many of the magnates of business and industry who controlled political funds and were anxious to use them to establish a strong right-wing, antisocialist government. The subsidies Hitler received from the industrialists placed his party on a secure financial footing and enabled him to make effective his emotional appeal to the lower middle class and the unemployed, based on the proclamation of his faith that Germany would awaken from its sufferings to reassert its natural greatness. Hitler's dealings with Hugenberg and the industrialists exemplify his skill in using those who sought to use him. But his most important achievement was the establishment of a truly national party (with its voters and followers drawn from different classes and religious groups), unique in Germany at the time.
Unremitting propaganda, set against the failure of the government to improve conditions during the Depression, produced a steadily mounting electoral strength for the Nazis. The party became the second largest in the country, rising from 2.6 percent of the vote in the national election of 1928 to more than 18 percent in September 1930. In 1932 Hitler opposed Hindenburg in the presidential election, capturing 36.8 percent of the votes on the second ballot. Finding himself in a strong position by virtue of his unprecedented mass following, he entered into a series of intrigues with conservatives such as Franz von Papen, Otto Meissner, and President Hindenburg's son, Oskar. The fear of communism and the rejection of the Social Democrats bound them together. In spite of a decline in the Nazi Party's votes in November 1932, Hitler insisted that the chancellorship was the only office he would accept. On January 30, 1933, Hindenburg offered him the chancellorship of Germany. His cabinet included few Nazis at that point.
Hitler's life and habits
Hitler's personal life had grown more relaxed and stable with the added comfort that accompanied political success. After his release from prison, he often went to live on the Obersalzberg, near Berchtesgaden. His income at this time was derived from party funds and from writing for nationalist newspapers. He was largely indifferent to clothes and food but did not eat meat and gave up drinking beer (and all other alcohols). His rather irregular working schedule prevailed. He usually rose late, sometimes dawdled at his desk, and retired late at night.
At Berchtesgaden, his half sister Angela Raubal and her two daughters accompanied him. Hitler became devoted to one of them, Geli, and it seems that his possessive jealousy drove her to suicide in September 1931. For weeks Hitler was inconsolable. Some time later Eva Braun, a shop assistant from Munich, became his mistress. Hitler rarely allowed her to appear in public with him. He would not consider marriage on the grounds that it would hamper his career. Braun was a simple young woman with few intellectual gifts. Her great virtue in Hitler's eyes was her unquestioning loyalty, and in recognition of this he legally married her at the end of his life.
Once in power, Hitler established an absolute dictatorship. He secured the president's assent for new elections. The Reichstag fire, on the night of February 27, 1933 (apparently the work of a Dutch Communist, Marinus van der Lubbe), provided an excuse for a decree overriding all guarantees of freedom and for an intensified campaign of violence. In these conditions, when the elections were held (March 5), the Nazis polled 43.9 percent of the votes. On March 21 the Reichstag assembled in the Potsdam Garrison Church to demonstrate the unity of National Socialism with the old conservative Germany, represented by Hindenburg. Two days later the Enabling Bill, giving full powers to Hitler, was passed in the Reichstag by the combined votes of Nazi, Nationalist, and Centre party deputies (March 23, 1933). Less than three months later all non-Nazi parties, organizations, and labor unions ceased to exist. The disappearance of the Catholic Centre Party was followed by a German Concordat with the Vatican in July. ( Adolf Hitler addressing the Reichstag.)
Hitler had no desire to spark a radical revolution. Conservative “ideas” were still necessary if he was to succeed to the presidency and retain the support of the army; moreover, he did not intend to expropriate the leaders of industry, provided they served the interests of the Nazi state. Ernst Röhm, however, was a protagonist of the “continuing revolution”; he was also, as head of the SA, distrusted by the army. Hitler tried first to secure Röhm's support for his policies by persuasion. Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler were eager to remove Röhm, but Hitler hesitated until the last moment. Finally, on June 29, 1934, he reached his decision. On the “Night of the Long Knives,” Röhm and his lieutenant Edmund Heines were executed without trial, along with Gregor Strasser, Kurt von Schleicher, and others. The army leaders, satisfied at seeing the SA broken up, approved Hitler's actions. When Hindenburg died on August 2, the army leaders, together with Papen, assented to the merging of the chancellorship and the presidency—with which went the supreme command of the armed forces of the Reich. Now officers and men took an oath of allegiance to Hitler personally. Economic recovery and a fast reduction in unemployment (coincident with world recovery, but for which Hitler took credit) made the regime increasingly popular, and a combination of success and police terror brought the support of 90 percent of the voters in a plebiscite.
Hitler devoted little attention to the organization and running of the domestic affairs of the Nazi state. Responsible for the broad lines of policy, as well as for the system of terror that upheld the state, he left detailed administration to his subordinates. Each of these exercised arbitrary power in his own sphere; but by deliberately creating offices and organizations with overlapping authority, Hitler effectively prevented any one of these particular realms from ever becoming sufficiently strong to challenge his own absolute authority.
Foreign policy claimed his greater interest. As he had made clear in Mein Kampf, the reunion of the German peoples was his overriding ambition. Beyond that, the natural field of expansion lay eastward, in Poland, the Ukraine, and the U.S.S.R.—expansion that would necessarily involve renewal of Germany's historic conflict with the Slavic peoples, who would be subordinate in the new order to the Teutonic master race. He saw fascist Italy as his natural ally in this crusade. Britain was a possible ally, provided it abandon its traditional policy of maintaining the balance of power in Europe and limit itself to its interests overseas. In the west France remained the natural enemy of Germany and must, therefore, be cowed or subdued to make expansion eastward possible.
Before such expansion was possible, it was necessary to remove the restrictions placed on Germany at the end of World War I by the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler used all the arts of propaganda to allay the suspicions of the other powers. He posed as the champion of Europe against the scourge of Bolshevism and insisted that he was a man of peace who wished only to remove the inequalities of the Versailles Treaty. He withdrew from the Disarmament Conference and from the League of Nations (October 1933), and he signed a nonaggression treaty with Poland (January 1934). Every repudiation of the treaty was followed by an offer to negotiate a fresh agreement and insistence on the limited nature of Germany's ambitions. Only once did the Nazis overreach themselves: when Austrian Nazis, with the connivance of German organizations, murdered Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss of Austria and attempted a revolt (July 1934). The attempt failed, and Hitler disclaimed all responsibility. In January 1935 a plebiscite in the Saarland, with a more than 90 percent majority, returned that territory to Germany. In March of the same year, Hitler introduced conscription. Although this action provoked protests from Britain, France, and Italy, the opposition was restrained, and Hitler's peace diplomacy was sufficiently successful to persuade the British to negotiate a naval treaty (June 1935) recognizing Germany's right to a considerable navy. His greatest stroke came in March 1936, when he used the excuse of a pact between France and the Soviet Union to march into the demilitarized Rhineland—a decision that he took against the advice of many generals. Meanwhile the alliance with Italy, foreseen in Mein Kampf, rapidly became a reality as a result of the sanctions imposed by Britain and France against Italy during the Ethiopian war. In October 1936, a Rome–Berlin axis was proclaimed by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini; shortly afterward came the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan; and a year later all three countries joined in a pact. Although on paper France had a number of allies in Europe, while Germany had none, Hitler's Third Reich had become the principal European power.
In November 1937, at a secret meeting of his military leaders, Hitler outlined his plans for future conquest (beginning with Austria and Czechoslovakia). In January 1938 he dispensed with the services of those who were not wholehearted in their acceptance of Nazi dynamism—Hjalmar Schacht, who was concerned with the German economy; Werner von Fritsch, a representative of the caution of professional soldiers; and Konstantin von Neurath, Hindenburg's appointment at the foreign office. In February Hitler invited the Austrian chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, to Berchtesgaden and forced him to sign an agreement including Austrian Nazis within the Vienna government. When Schuschnigg attempted to resist, announcing a plebiscite about Austrian independence, Hitler immediately ordered the invasion of Austria by German troops. The enthusiastic reception that Hitler received convinced him to settle the future of Austria by outright annexation ( Anschluss). He returned in triumph to Vienna, the scene of his youthful humiliations and hardships. No resistance was encountered from Britain and France. Hitler had taken special care to secure the support of Italy; as this was forthcoming he proclaimed his undying gratitude to Mussolini.
In spite of his assurances that Anschluss would not affect Germany's relations with Czechoslovakia, Hitler proceeded at once with his plans against that country. Konrad Henlein, leader of the German minority in Czechoslovakia, was instructed to agitate for impossible demands on the part of the Sudetenland Germans, thereby enabling Hitler to move ahead on the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Britain's and France's willingness to accept the cession of the Sudetenland areas to Germany presented Hitler with the choice between substantial gains by peaceful agreement or by a spectacular war against Czechoslovakia. The intervention by Mussolini and British prime minister Neville Chamberlain appear to have been decisive. Hitler accepted the Munich Agreement on September 30. He also declared that these were his last territorial demands in Europe.
Only a few months later, he proceeded to occupy the rest of Czechoslovakia. On March 15, 1939, he marched into Prague declaring that the rest of “Czechia” would become a German protectorate. A few days later (March 23) the Lithuanian government was forced to cede Memel (Klaipeda), next to the northern frontier of East Prussia, to Germany.
Immediately Hitler turned on Poland. Confronted by the Polish nation and its leaders, whose resolution to resist him was strengthened by a guarantee from Britain and France, Hitler confirmed his alliance with Italy (the “Pact of Steel,” May 1939). Moreover, on August 23, just within the deadline set for an attack on Poland, he signed a nonaggression pact with Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union—the greatest diplomatic bombshell in centuries. Hitler still disclaimed any quarrel with Britain, but to no avail; the German invasion of Poland (September 1) was followed two days later by a British and French declaration of war on Germany.
The patriarch in his home laboratory:
Long periods of debilitating sickness in the 1860s left the craggy, bearded Darwin thin and ravaged. He once vomited for 27 consecutive days. Down House was an infirmary where illness was the norm and Emma the attendant nurse. She was a shield, protecting the patriarch, cosseting him. Darwin was a typical Victorian in his racial and sexual stereotyping—however dependent on his redoubtable wife, he still thought women inferior; and although a fervent abolitionist, he still considered blacks a lower race. But few outside of the egalitarian socialists challenged these prejudices—and Darwin, immersed in a competitive Whig culture, and enshrining its values in his science, had no time for socialism.
The house was also a laboratory, where Darwin continued experimenting and revamping the Origin through six editions. Although quietly swearing by “my deity ‘Natural Selection,’” he answered critics by reemphasizing other causes of change—for example, the effects of continued use of an organ—and he bolstered the Lamarckian belief that such alterations through excessive use might be passed on. In Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868) he marshaled the facts and explored the causes of variation in domestic breeds. The book answered critics such as George Douglas Campbell, the eighth duke of Argyll, who loathed Darwin’s blind, accidental process of variation and envisaged the appearance of “new births” as goal directed. By showing that fanciers picked from the gamut of naturally occurring variations to produce the tufts and topknots on their fancy pigeons, Darwin undermined this providential explanation.
In 1867 the engineer Fleeming Jenkin argued that any single favourable variation would be swamped and lost by back-breeding within the general population. No mechanism was known for inheritance, and so in the Variation Darwin devised his hypothesis of “pangenesis” to explain the discrete inheritance of traits. He imagined that each tissue of an organism threw out tiny “gemmules,” which passed to the sex organs and permitted copies of themselves to be made in the next generation. But Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton failed to find these gemmules in rabbit blood, and the theory was dismissed.
Darwin was adept at flanking movements in order to get around his critics. He would take seemingly intractable subjects—like orchid flowers—and make them test cases for “natural selection.” Hence the book that appeared after the Origin was, to everyone’s surprise, The Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects (1862). He showed that the orchid’s beauty was not a piece of floral whimsy “designed” by God to please humans but honed by selection to attract insect cross-pollinators. The petals guided the bees to the nectaries, and pollen sacs were deposited exactly where they could be removed by a stigma of another flower.
But why the importance of cross-pollination? Darwin’s botanical work was always subtly related to his evolutionary mechanism. He believed that cross-pollinated plants would produce fitter offspring than self-pollinators, and he used considerable ingenuity in conducting thousands of crossings to prove the point. The results appeared in The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom (1876). His next book, The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species (1877), was again the result of long-standing work into the way evolution in some species favoured different male and female forms of flowers to facilitate outbreeding. Darwin had long been sensitive to the effects of inbreeding because he was himself married to a Wedgwood cousin, as was his sister Caroline. He agonized over its debilitating consequence for his five sons. Not that he need have worried, for they fared well: William became a banker, Leonard an army major, George the Plumian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge, Francis a reader in botany at Cambridge, and Horace a scientific instrument maker. Darwin also studied insectivorous plants, climbing plants, and the response of plants to gravity and light (sunlight, he thought, activated something in the shoot tip, an idea that guided future work on growth hormones in plants).
The private man and the public debate:
Through the 1860s natural selection was already being applied to the growth of society. A.R. Wallace saw cooperation strengthening the moral bonds within primitive tribes. Advocates of social Darwinism, in contrast, complained that modern civilization was protecting the “unfit” from natural selection. Francis Galton argued that particular character traits—even drunkenness and genius—were inherited and that “eugenics,” as it would come to be called, would stop the genetic drain. The trend to explain the evolution of human races, morality, and civilization was capped by Darwin in his two-volume The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). The book was authoritative, annotated, and heavily anecdotal in places. The two volumes were discrete, the first discussing the evolution of civilization and human origins among the Old World monkeys. (Darwin’s depiction of a hairy human ancestor with pointed ears led to a spate of caricatures; see theSatirical cartoon by Thomas Nast, from Harper’s Weekly, August 19, … [Credit: Bettmann/Corbis].) The second volume responded to critics like Argyll, who doubted that the iridescent hummingbird’s plumage had any function—or any Darwinian explanation. Darwin argued that female birds were choosing mates for their gaudy plumage. Darwin as usual tapped his huge correspondence network of breeders, naturalists, and travelers worldwide to produce evidence for this. Such “sexual selection” happened among humans too. With primitive societies accepting diverse notions of beauty, aesthetic preferences, he believed, could account for the origin of the human races.
Darwin’s explanation was also aimed partly at Wallace. Like so many disillusioned socialists, Wallace had become engaged in spiritualism. He argued that an overdeveloped human brain had been provided by the spirit forces to move humanity toward millennial perfection. Darwin had no time for this. Even though he eventually attended a séance with Galton and the novelist George Eliot (Marian Evans) at his brother’s house in 1874, he was appalled at “such rubbish,” and in 1876 he sent £10 toward the costs of the prosecution of the medium Henry Slade.
Darwin finished another long-standing line of work. Since studying the moody orangutans at London Zoo in 1838, through the births of his 10 children (whose facial contortions he duly noted), Darwin had been fascinated by expression. As a student he had heard the attacks on the idea that peoples’ facial muscles were designed by God to express their unique thoughts. Now his photographically illustrated The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) expanded the subject to include the rages and grimaces of asylum inmates, all to show the continuity of emotions and expressions between humans and animals.
The gentle Darwin elicited tremendous devotion. A protective circle formed around him, locked tight by Huxley and Hooker. It was they who ostracized detractors, particularly the Roman Catholic zoologist Saint George Jackson Mivart. Nor did Darwin forget it: he helped raise £2,100 to send a fatigued Huxley on holiday in 1873, and his pestering resulted in the impecunious Wallace being added to the Civil List in 1881. Darwin was held in awe by many, the more so because he was rarely seen. And when he was seen—for example, by the Harvard philosopher John Fiske, a privileged visitor to Down House in 1873—he was found to be “the dearest, sweetest, loveliest old grandpa that ever was.”
Darwin wrote his autobiography between 1876 and 1881. It was composed for his grandchildren, rather than for publication, and it was particularly candid on his dislike of Christian myths of eternal torment. To people who inquired about his religious beliefs, however, he would only say that he was an agnostic (a word coined by Huxley in 1869).
The treadmill of experiment and writing gave so much meaning to his life. But as he wrapped up his final, long-term interest, publishing The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms (1881), the future looked bleak. Such an earthy subject was typical Darwin: just as he had shown that today’s ecosystems were built by infinitesimal degrees and the mighty Andes by tiny uplifts, so he ended on the monumental transformation of landscapes by the Earth’s humblest denizens.
Charles Darwin in a photograph (c. 1874) published posthumously in The … [Credit: © Photos.com/Jupiterimages]Suffering from angina, he looked forward to joining the worms, contemplating “Down graveyard as the sweetest place on earth.” He had a seizure in March 1882 and died of a heart attack on April 19. Influential groups wanted a grander commemoration than a funeral in Downe, something better for the gentleman naturalist who had delivered the “new Nature” into the new professionals’ hands. Galton had the Royal Society request the family’s permission for a state burial. Huxley, who by taking over the public debate had preserved Darwin’s reputation of “sweet and gentle nature blossomed into perfection,” as a newspaper put it, convinced the canon of Westminster Abbey to bury the diffident agnostic there. And so Darwin was laid to rest with full ecclesiastical pomp on April 26, 1882, attended by the new nobility of science and the state.
Book-length works by Charles Darwin (presented in chronological order of publication) include: Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. Beagle (1839); The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs (1842); Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands, Visited during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1844); Geological Observations on South America (1846); A Monograph on the Fossil Lepadidae, or, Pedunculated Cirripedes of Great Britain (1851); A Monograph on the Sub-Class Cirripedia, 2 vol. (1851–54); A Monograph on the Fossil Balanidae and Verrucidae of Great Britain (1854); On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859); On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects (1862); The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, 2 vol. (1868); The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2 vol. (1871); The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872); Insectivorous Plants (1875); The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants (1875); The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom (1876); The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species (1877); The Power of Movement in Plants (1880); The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits (1881).
Darwin’s first sketches on natural selection were published by Francis Darwin (ed.), The Foundations of the Origin of Species: Two Essays Written in 1842 and 1844 (1909). His journal articles and printed letters have been published by Paul H. Barrett (ed.), The Collected Papers of Charles Darwin, 2 vol. (1977, reissued 2 vol. in 1, 1980). Part of Darwin’s “big book” that he never published, Natural Selection, appeared as R.C. Stauffer (ed.), Charles Darwin’s Natural Selection: Being the Second Part of His Big Species Book Written from 1856 to 1858 (1975, reissued 1987).
For a contextual study of Darwin’s life, see Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin (1991), and a detailed two-volume biography by Janet Browne, Charles Darwin (1996–2002). An overview of the latest thinking on Darwin’s century is contained in Peter J. Bowler, Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence (1990). For an account of older biographical works, consult Ralph Colp, Jr., “Charles Darwin’s Past and Future Biographies,” in History of Science, 27(2):167–197 (June 1989).
Darwin’s Kent home is described in Hedley Atkins, Down, the Home of the Darwins: The Story of a House and the People who Lived There (1974). His affection for his daughter Annie as a background to his scientific work is described in Randal Keynes, Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution (2002; originally published in Britain as Annie’s Box, 2001). Darwin’s own illness and treatments are considered in Ralph Colp, Jr., To Be an Invalid: The Illness of Charles Darwin (1977). Darwin’s unexpurgated autobiography was published by Nora Barlow (ed.), The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–1882, with Original Omissions Restored (1958, reissued 1993).
Frederick Burkhardt et al. (eds.), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin (1985– ), is the definitive transcription and annotation of letters to and from Darwin; 12 volumes, covering the years 1821–64, had appeared by 2001. It is accompanied by Frederick Burkhardt and Sydney Smith (eds.), A Calendar of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882 (1985, reissued with supplement, 1994), which lists all 15,000 letters. See also Henrietta Litchfield (ed.), Emma Darwin: A Century of Family Letters, 1792–1896, 2 vol. (1915).
Darwin’s evolution notebooks are transcribed and edited by Paul H. Barrett et al. (eds.), Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836–1844 (1987); while his marginalia are transcribed in Mario A. Di Gregorio and N.W. Gill (eds.), Charles Darwin’s Marginalia, vol. 1 (1990– ). During the 1970s and ’80s, textual scholars analyzed Darwin’s notebooks in order to trace his development of the theory of natural selection. See particularly David Kohn, “Theories to Work by: Rejected Theories, Reproduction, and Darwin’s Path to Natural Selection,” in Studies in History of Biology, 4:67–170 (1980); and the articles in David Kohn (ed.), The Darwinian Heritage (1985). An incisive revisionist account of Darwin’s finch collecting on the Galapagos Islands and the development of his transmutationist views in London occurs in Frank J. Sulloway, “Darwin and His Finches: The Evolution of a Legend,” in Journal of the History of Biology, 15(1):1–53 (Spring 1982), and “Darwin’s Conversion: The Beagle Voyage and Its Aftermath,” in Journal of the History of Biology, 15(3):325–396 (Fall 1982).
The effect of Darwin’s evolutionary insights on his metaphysical views is considered in Howard E. Gruber, Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Scientific Creativity, 2nd ed. (1981). Darwin’s changing conceptualization of evolution in the two decades leading up to the Origin of Species is the subject of Dov Ospovat, The Development of Darwin’s Theory: Natural History, Natural Theology, and Natural Selection, 1838–1859 (1981, reprinted 1995).
Good summaries of the wealth of Darwin studies are Timothy Lenoir, “Essay Review: The Darwin Industry,” in Journal of the History of Biology, 20(1):115–130 (Spring 1987); and Michael Ruse, “The Darwin Industry: A Guide,” in Victorian Studies, 39(2):217–235 (Winter 1996).
Charles Darwin, in full Charles Robert Darwin (born February 12, 1809, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England—died April 19, 1882, Downe, Kent), British naturalist.
The grandson of Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and biology at Cambridge. He was recommended as a naturalist on HMS Beagle, which was bound on a long scientific survey expedition to South America and the South Seas (1831–36). His zoological and geological discoveries on the voyage resulted in numerous important publications and formed the basis of his theories of evolution. Seeing competition between individuals of a single species, he recognized that within a local population the individual bird, for example, with the sharper beak might have a better chance to survive and reproduce and that if such traits were passed on to new generations, they would be predominant in future populations. He saw this natural selection as the mechanism by which advantageous variations were passed on to later generations and less advantageous traits gradually disappeared. He worked on his theory for more than 20 years before publishing it in his famous On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859). The book was immediately in great demand, and Darwin’s intensely controversial theory was accepted quickly in most scientific circles; most opposition came from religious leaders. Though Darwin’s ideas were modified by later developments in genetics and molecular biology, his work remains central to modern evolutionary theory. His many other important works included Variation in Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868) and The Descent of Man… (1871). He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
English naturalist whose theory of evolution by natural selection became the foundation of modern evolutionary studies. An affable country gentleman, Darwin at first shocked religious Victorian society by suggesting that animals and humans shared a common ancestry. However, his nonreligious biology appealed to the rising class of professional scientists, and by the time of his death evolutionary imagery had spread through all of science, literature, and politics. Darwin, himself an agnostic, was accorded the ultimate British accolade of burial in Westminster Abbey, London. (In February 2009, for the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, the Britannica Blog asked two of Britannica’s contributors to answer a few questions on the current influence of Charles Darwin and his ideas. Noted evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala, professor biological sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Britannica’s entry on evolution and Evolving: The Theory and Processes of Organic Evolution and others, addresses some of the current developments in evolutionary biology, while Adam Gopnik, a staff writer at the The New Yorker and author of the cultural life section of Britannica’s United States entry and Angels and Ages, explores the linkage between Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, with whom he shares his birthday.)
Trace Darwin’s circumnavigation of the globe by scrolling your cursor over highlighted locations on …Darwin formulated his bold theory in private in 1837–39, after returning from a voyage around the world aboard HMS Beagle, but it was not until two decades later that he finally gave it full public expression in On the Origin of Species (1859), a book that has deeply influenced modern Western society and thought.
Early life and education:
Darwin was the second son of society doctor Robert Waring Darwin and of Susannah Wedgwood, daughter of the Unitarian pottery industrialist Josiah Wedgwood. Darwin’s other grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, a freethinking physician and poet fashionable before the French Revolution, was author of Zoonomia or the Laws of Organic Life (1794–96). Darwin’s mother died when he was eight, and he was cared for by his three elder sisters. The boy stood in awe of his overbearing father, whose astute medical observations taught him much about human psychology. But he hated the rote learning of Classics at the traditional Anglican Shrewsbury School, where he studied between 1818 and 1825. Science was then considered dehumanizing in English public schools, and for dabbling in chemistry Darwin was condemned by his headmaster (and nicknamed “Gas” by his schoolmates).
His father, considering the 16-year-old a wastrel interested only in game shooting, sent him to study medicine at Edinburgh University in 1825. Later in life, Darwin gave the impression that he had learned little during his two years at Edinburgh. In fact, it was a formative experience. There was no better science education in a British university. He was taught to understand the chemistry of cooling rocks on the primitive Earth and how to classify plants by the modern “natural system.” In Edinburgh Museum he was taught to stuff birds by a freed South American slave and to identify the rock strata and colonial flora and fauna.
More crucially, the university’s radical students exposed the teenager to the latest Continental sciences. Edinburgh attracted English Dissenters who were barred from graduating at the Anglican universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and at student societies Darwin heard freethinkers deny the Divine design of human facial anatomy and argue that animals shared all the human mental faculties. One talk, on the mind as the product of a material brain, was officially censored, for such materialism was considered subversive in the conservative decades after the French Revolution. Darwin was witnessing the social penalties of holding deviant views. As he collected sea slugs and sea pens on nearby shores, he was accompanied by Robert Edmond Grant, a radical evolutionist and disciple of the French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. An expert on sponges, Grant became Darwin’s mentor, teaching him about the growth and relationships of primitive marine invertebrates, which Grant believed held the key to unlocking the mysteries surrounding the origin of more complex creatures. Darwin, encouraged to tackle the larger questions of life through a study of invertebrate zoology, made his own observations on the larval sea mat (Flustra) and announced his findings at the student societies.
The young Darwin learned much in Edinburgh’s rich intellectual environment, but not medicine: he loathed anatomy, and (pre-chloroform) surgery sickened him. His freethinking father, shrewdly realizing that the church was a better calling for an aimless naturalist, switched him to Christ’s College, Cambridge, in 1828. In a complete change of environment, Darwin was now educated as an Anglican gentleman. He took his horse, indulged his drinking, shooting, and beetle-collecting passions with other squires’ sons, and managed 10th place in the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1831. Here he was shown the conservative side of botany by a young professor, the Reverend John Stevens Henslow, while that doyen of Providential design in the animal world, the Reverend Adam Sedgwick, took Darwin to Wales in 1831 on a geologic field trip.
Fired by Alexander von Humboldt’s account of the South American jungles in his Personal Narrative of Travels, Darwin jumped at Henslow’s suggestion of a voyage to Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America, aboard a rebuilt brig, HMS Beagle. Darwin would not sail as a lowly surgeon-naturalist but as a self-financed gentleman companion to the 26-year-old captain, Robert Fitzroy, an aristocrat who feared the loneliness of command. Fitzroy’s was to be an imperial-evangelical voyage: he planned to survey coastal Patagonia to facilitate British trade and return three “savages” previously brought to England from Tierra del Fuego and Christianized. Darwin equipped himself with weapons, books (Fitzroy gave him the first volume of Principles of Geology, by Charles Lyell), and advice on preserving carcasses from London Zoo’s experts. The Beagle sailed from England on December 27, 1831.
The Beagle voyage:
The circumnavigation of the globe would be the making of the 22-year-old Darwin. Five years of physical hardship and mental rigour, imprisoned within a ship’s walls, offset by wide-open opportunities in the Brazilian jungles and the Andes Mountains, were to give Darwin a new seriousness. As a gentleman naturalist, he could leave the ship for extended periods, pursuing his own interests. As a result, he spent only 18 months of the voyage aboard the ship.
The hardship was immediate: a tormenting seasickness. And so was his questioning: on calm days Darwin’s plankton-filled townet left him wondering why beautiful creatures teemed in the ocean’s vastness, where no human could appreciate them. On the Cape Verde Islands (January 1832), the sailor saw bands of oyster shells running through local rocks, suggesting that Lyell was right in his geologic speculations and that the land was rising in places, falling in others. At Bahia (now Salvador), Brazil, the luxuriance of the rainforest left Darwin’s mind in “a chaos of delight.” But that mind, with its Wedgwood-abolitionist characteristics, was revolted by the local slavery. For Darwin, so often alone, the tropical forests seemed to compensate for human evils: months were spent in Rio de Janeiro amid this shimmering tropical splendour, full of “gaily-coloured” flatworms, and the collector himself became “red-hot with Spiders.” But nature had its own evils, and Darwin always remembered with a shudder the parasitic ichneumon wasp, which stored caterpillars to be eaten alive by its grubs. He would later consider this evidence against the beneficent design of nature.
On the River Plate (Río de la Plata) in July 1832, he found Montevideo, Uruguay, in a state of rebellion and joined armed sailors to retake the rebel-held fort. At Bahía Blanca, Argentina, gauchos told him of their extermination of the Pampas “Indians.” Beneath the veneer of human civility, genocide seemed the rule on the frontier, a conclusion reinforced by Darwin’s meeting with General Juan Manuel de Rosas and his “villainous Banditti-like army,” in charge of eradicating the natives. For a sensitive young man, fresh from Christ’s College, this was disturbing. His contact with “untamed” humans on Tierra del Fuego in December 1832 unsettled him more. How great, wrote Darwin, the “difference between savage & civilized man is.—It is greater than between a wild & [a] domesticated animal.” God had evidently created humans in a vast cultural range, and yet, judging by the Christianized savages aboard, even the “lowest” races were capable of improvement. Darwin was tantalized, and always he niggled for explanations.
His fossil discoveries raised more questions. Darwin’s periodic trips over two years to the cliffs at Bahía Blanca and farther south at Port St. Julian yielded huge bones of extinct mammals. Darwin manhandled skulls, femurs, and armour plates back to the ship—relics, he assumed, of rhinoceroses, mastodons, cow-sized armadillos, and giant ground sloths (see the engraving of the Megatherium skeleton). He unearthed a horse-sized mammal with a long face like an anteater’s, and he returned from a 340-mile (550-km) ride to Mercedes near the Uruguay River with a skull 28 inches (71 cm) long strapped to his horse. Fossil extraction became a romance for Darwin. It pushed him into thinking of the primeval world and what had caused these giant beasts to die out.
The land was evidently changing, rising; Darwin’s observations in the Andes Mountains confirmed it. After the Beagle surveyed the Falkland Islands, and after Darwin had packed away at Port Desire (Puerto Deseado), Argentina, the partially gnawed bones of a new species of small rhea, the ship sailed up the west coast of South America to Valparaíso, Chile. Here Darwin climbed 4,000 feet (1,200 metres) into the Andean foothills and marveled at the forces that could raise such mountains. The forces themselves became tangible when he saw volcanic Mount Osorno erupt on January 15, 1835. Then in Valdivia, Chile, on February 20, as he lay on a forest floor, the ground shook: the violence of the earthquake and ensuing tidal wave was enough to destroy the great city of Concepción, whose rubble Darwin walked through. But what intrigued him was the seemingly insignificant: the local mussel beds, all dead, were now lying above high tide. The land had risen: Lyell, taking the uniformitarian position, had argued that geologic formations were the result of steady cumulative forces of the sort we see today. And Darwin had seen them. The continent was thrusting itself up, a few feet at a time. He imagined the eons it had taken to raise the fossilized trees in sandstone (once seashore mud) to 7,000 feet (2,100 metres), where he found them. Darwin began thinking in terms of deep time.
They left Peru on the circumnavigation home in September 1835. First Darwin landed on the “frying hot” Galapagos Islands. These were volcanic prison islands, crawling with marine iguanas and giant tortoises. (Darwin and the crew brought small tortoises aboard as pets, to join their coatis from Peru.) Contrary to legend, these islands never provided Darwin’s “eureka” moment. Although he noted that the mockingbirds differed on four islands and tagged his specimens accordingly, he failed to label his other birds—what he thought were wrens, “gross-beaks,” finches, and oriole-relatives—by island. Nor did Darwin collect tortoise specimens, even though local prisoners believed that each island had its distinct race.
The “home-sick heroes” returned via Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia. By April 1836, when the Beagle made the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean—Fitzroy’s brief being to see if coral reefs sat on mountain tops—Darwin already had his theory of reef formation. He imagined (correctly) that these reefs grew on sinking mountain rims. The delicate coral built up, compensating for the drowning land, so as to remain within optimal heat and lighting conditions. At the Cape of Good Hope, Darwin talked with the astronomer Sir John Herschel, possibly about Lyell’s gradual geologic evolution and perhaps about how it entailed a new problem, the “mystery of mysteries,” the simultaneous change of fossil life.
On the last leg of the voyage Darwin finished his 770-page diary, wrapped up 1,750 pages of notes, drew up 12 catalogs of his 5,436 skins, bones, and carcasses—and still he wondered: Was each Galapagos mockingbird a naturally produced variety? Why did ground sloths become extinct? He sailed home with problems enough to last him a lifetime. When he landed in October 1836, the vicarage had faded, the gun had given way to the notebook, and the supreme theorizer—who would always move from small causes to big outcomes—had the courage to look beyond the conventions of his own Victorian culture for new answers.
Evolution by natural selection: the London years, 1836–42:
With his voyage over and with a £400 annual allowance from his father, Darwin now settled down among the urban gentry as a gentleman geologist. He befriended Lyell, and he discussed the rising Chilean coastline as a new fellow of the Geological Society in January 1837 (he was secretary of the society by 1838). Darwin became well known through his diary’s publication as Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. Beagle (1839). With a £1,000 Treasury grant, obtained through the Cambridge network, he employed the best experts and published their descriptions of his specimens in his Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1838–43). Darwin’s star had risen, and he was now lionized in London.
It was in these years of civil unrest following the First Reform Act (1832) that Darwin devised his theory of evolution. Radical Dissenters were denouncing the church’s monopoly on power—attacking an Anglican status quo that rested on miraculous props: the supposed supernatural creation of life and society. Darwin had Unitarian roots, and his breathless notes show how his radical Dissenting understanding of equality and antislavery framed his image of mankind’s place in nature: “Animals—whom we have made our slaves we do not like to consider our equals.—Do not slave holders wish to make the black man other kind?” Some radicals questioned whether each animal was uniquely “designed” by God when all vertebrates shared a similar structural plan. The polymathic Charles Babbage—of calculating machine fame—made God a divine programmer, preordaining life by means of natural law rather than ad hoc miracle. It was the ultra-Whig way, and in 1837 Darwin, an impeccable Whig reformer who enjoyed Babbage’s soirees, likewise accepted that “the Creator creates by…laws.”
The experts’ findings sent Darwin to more heretical depths. At the Royal College of Surgeons, the eminent anatomist Richard Owen found that Darwin’s Uruguay River skull belonged to Toxodon, a hippotamus-sized antecedent of the South American capybara. The Pampas fossils were nothing like rhinoceroses and mastodons; they were huge extinct armadillos, anteaters, and sloths, which suggested that South American mammals had been replaced by their own kind according to some unknown “law of succession.” At the Zoological Society, ornithologist John Gould announced that the Galapagos birds were not a mixture of wrens, finches, and “gross-beaks” but were all ground finches, differently adapted. When Gould diagnosed the Galapagos mockingbirds as three species, unique to different islands, in March 1837, Darwin examined Fitzroy’s collection to discover that each island had its representative finch as well. But how had they all diverged from mainland colonists? By this time Darwin was living near his freethinking brother, Erasmus, in London’s West End, and their dissident dining circle, which included the Unitarian Harriet Martineau, provided the perfect milieu for Darwin’s ruminations. Darwin adopted “transmutation” (evolution, as it is now called), perhaps because of his familiarity with it through the work of his grandfather and Robert Grant. Nonetheless, it was abominated by the Cambridge clerics as a bestial, if not blasphemous, heresy that would corrupt mankind and destroy the spiritual safeguards of the social order. Thus began Darwin’s double life, which would last for two decades.
For two years he filled notebooks with jottings. There was an intensity and doggedness to it. He searched for the causes of extinction, accepted life as a branching tree (not a series of escalators, the old idea), tackled island isolation, and wondered whether variations appeared gradually or at a stroke. He dismissed a Lamarckian force driving life inexorably upward with the cavalier joke, “If all men were dead then monkeys make men.—Men make angels,” which showed how little the failed ordinand shared his Cambridge mentors’ hysteria about an ape ancestry. Indeed, there was no “upward”: he became relativistic, sensing that life was spreading outward into niches, not standing on a ladder. There was no way of ranking humans and bees, no yardstick of “highness”: man was no longer the crown of creation.
Heart palpitations and stomach problems were affecting him by September 1837. Stress sent him to the Highlands of Scotland in 1838, where he diverted himself studying the “parallel roads” of Glen Roy, so like the raised beaches in Chile. But the sickness returned as he continued chipping at the scientific bedrock of a cleric-dominated society. The “whole [miraculous] fabric totters & falls,” he jotted. Darwin had a right to be worried. Were his secret discovered, he would stand accused of social abandon. At Edinburgh he had seen censorship; other materialists were being publicly disgraced. His notes began mooting disarming ploys: “Mention persecution of early astronomers.” Behind his respectable facade at the Geological Society lay a new contempt for the divines’ providential shortsightedness. The president, the Reverend William Whewell, “says length of days adapted to duration of sleep of man.!!!” he jotted. What “arrogance!!”
Mankind: there was the crux. Darwin wrote humans and society into the evolutionary equation from the start. He saw the social instincts of troop animals developing into morality and studied the humanlike behaviour of orangutans at the zoo. With avant-garde society radicalized, Darwin moved into his own ultraradical phase in 1838—even suggesting that belief in God was an ingrained tribal survival strategy: “love of [the] deity [is an] effect of [the brain’s] organization. Oh you Materialist!” he mocked himself. In a day when a gentleman’s character had to be above reproach, Darwin’s notes had a furtive ring. None of this could become known—yet. The rich careerist—admitted to the prestigious Athenaeum Club in 1838 and the Royal Society in 1839—had too much to lose.
As a sporting gent from the shires, Darwin queried breeders about the way they changed domestic dogs and fancy pigeons by spotting slight variations and accentuating them through breeding. But he only saw the complete congruity between the way nature operated and the way fanciers produced new breeds upon reading the economist Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population in September 1838. This was a seminal moment—even if Malthusian ideas had long permeated his Whig circle. Darwin was living through a workhouse revolution. Malthus had said that there would always be too many mouths to feed—population increases geometrically, whereas food production rises arithmetically—and that charity was useless. So the Whigs had passed a Malthusian Poor Law in 1834 and were incarcerating sick paupers in workhouses (separating men from women to stop them from breeding). Darwin’s dining companion Harriet Martineau (whom many expected to marry his brother, Erasmus), was the Whigs’ poor law propagandist. (Her novelistic Malthusian pamphlets had been sent to Darwin while he was on the Beagle.) Darwin realized that population explosions would lead to a struggle for resources and that the ensuing competition would weed out the unfit. It was an idea he now applied to nature (he had previously thought that animal populations remained stable in the wild). Darwin called his modified Malthusian mechanism “natural selection.” Nature was equally uncharitable, went the argument: overpopulated, it experienced a fierce struggle, and from all manner of chance variations, good and bad, the best, “the surviving one of ten thousand trials,” won out, endured, and thus passed on its improved trait. This was the way a species kept pace with the Lyellian evolution of the Earth.
Darwin was a born list maker. In 1838 he even totted up the pros and cons of taking a wife—and married his cousin Emma Wedgwood (1808–96) in 1839. He rashly confided his thoughts on evolution, evidently shocking her. By now, Darwin accepted the notion that even mental traits and instincts were randomly varying, that they were the stuff for selection. But he saw from Emma’s reaction that he must publicly camouflage his views. Although the randomness and destructiveness of his evolutionary system—with thousands dying so that the “fittest” might survive—left little room for a personally operating benign deity, Darwin still believed that God was the ultimate lawgiver of the universe. In 1839 he shut his last major evolution notebook, his theory largely complete.
The squire naturalist in Downe:
Darwin drafted a 35-page sketch of his theory of natural selection in 1842 and expanded it in 1844, but he had no immediate intention of publishing it. He wrote Emma a letter in 1844 requesting that, if he died, she should pay an editor £400 to publish the work. Perhaps he wanted to die first. In 1842, Darwin, increasingly shunning society, had moved the family to the isolated village of Downe, in Kent, at the “extreme edge of [the] world.” (It was in fact only 16 miles [26 km] from central London.) Here, living in a former parsonage, Down House, he emulated the lifestyle of his clerical friends. Fearing prying eyes, he even lowered the road outside his house. His seclusion was complete: from now on he ran his days like clockwork, with set periods for walking, napping, reading, and nightly backgammon. He fulfilled his parish responsibilities, eventually helping to run the local Coal and Clothing Club for the labourers. His work hours were given over to bees, flowers, and barnacles and to his books on coral reefs and South American geology, three of which in 1842–46 secured his reputation as a career geologist.
He rarely mentioned his secret. When he did, notably to the Kew Gardens botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, Darwin said that believing in evolution was “like confessing a murder.” The analogy with this capital offense was not so strange: seditious atheists were using evolution as part of their weaponry against Anglican oppression and were being jailed for blasphemy. Darwin, nervous and nauseous, trying spas and quack remedies (even tying plate batteries to his heaving stomach), understood the conservative clerical morality. He was sensitive to the offense he might cause. He was also immensely wealthy: by the late 1840s the Darwins had £80,000 invested; he was an absentee landlord of two large Lincolnshire farms; and in the 1850s he plowed tens of thousands of pounds into railway shares. Even though his theory, with its capitalist and meritocratic emphasis, was quite unlike anything touted by the radicals and rioters, these turbulent years were no time to break cover.
From 1846 to 1854, Darwin added to his credibility as an expert on species by pursuing a detailed study of all known barnacles. Intrigued by their sexual differentiation, he discovered that some females had tiny degenerate males clinging to them. This sparked his interest in the evolution of diverging male and female forms from an original hermaphrodite creature. Four monographs on such an obscure group made him a world expert and gained him the Royal Society’s Royal Medal in 1853. No longer could he be dismissed as a speculator on biological matters.
On the Origin of Species:
England became quieter and more prosperous in the 1850s, and by mid-decade the professionals were taking over, instituting exams and establishing a meritocracy. The changing social composition of science—typified by the rise of the freethinking biologist Thomas Henry Huxley—promised a better reception for Darwin. Huxley, the philosopher Herbert Spencer, and other outsiders were opting for a secular nature in the rationalist Westminster Review and deriding the influence of “parsondom.” Darwin had himself lost the last shreds of his belief in Christianity with the tragic death of his oldest daughter, Annie, from typhoid in 1851.
The world was becoming safer for Darwin and his theory: mid-Victorian England was stabler than the “hungry Thirties” or turbulent 1840s. In 1854 he solved his last major problem, the forking of genera to produce new evolutionary branches. He used an industrial analogy familiar from the Wedgwood factories, the division of labour: competition in nature’s overcrowded marketplace would favour variants that could exploit different aspects of a niche. Species would diverge on the spot, like tradesmen in the same tenement. Through 1855 Darwin experimented with seeds in seawater, to prove that they could survive ocean crossings to start the process of speciation on islands. Then he kept fancy pigeons, to see if the chicks were more like the ancestral rock dove than their own bizarre parents. Darwin perfected his analogy of natural selection with the fancier’s “artificial selection,” as he called it. He was preparing his rhetorical strategy, ready to present his theory.
After speaking to Huxley and Hooker at Downe in April 1856, Darwin began writing a triple-volume book, tentatively called Natural Selection, which was designed to crush the opposition with a welter of facts. Darwin now had immense scientific and social authority, and his place in the parish was assured when he was sworn in as a justice of the peace in 1857. Encouraged by Lyell, Darwin continued writing through the birth of his 10th and last child, the mentally retarded Charles Waring Darwin (born in 1856, when Emma was 48). Whereas in the 1830s Darwin had thought that species remained perfectly adapted until the environment changed, he now believed that every new variation was imperfect, and that perpetual struggle was the rule. He also explained the evolution of sterile worker bees in 1857. These could not be selected because they did not breed, so he opted for “family” selection (kin selection, as it is known today): the whole colony benefited from their retention.
Darwin had finished a quarter of a million words by June 18, 1858. That day he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, an English socialist and specimen collector working in the Malay Archipelago, sketching a similar-looking theory. Darwin, fearing loss of priority, accepted Lyell’s and Hooker’s solution: they read joint extracts from Darwin’s and Wallace’s works at the Linnean Society on July 1, 1858. Darwin was away, sick, grieving for his tiny son who had died from scarlet fever, and thus he missed the first public presentation of the theory of natural selection. It was an absenteeism that would mark his later years.
Darwin hastily began an “abstract” of Natural Selection, which grew into a more accessible book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Suffering from a terrible bout of nausea, Darwin, now 50, was secreted away at a spa on the desolate Yorkshire moors when the book was sold to the trade on November 22, 1859. He still feared the worst and sent copies to the experts with self-effacing letters (“how you will long to crucify me alive”). It was like “living in Hell,” he said about these months.
The book did distress his Cambridge patrons, but they were marginal to science now. However, radical Dissenters were sympathetic, as were the rising London biologists and geologists, even if few actually adopted Darwin’s cost-benefit approach to nature. The newspapers drew the one conclusion that Darwin had specifically avoided: that humans had evolved from apes, and that Darwin was denying mankind’s immortality. A sensitive Darwin, making no personal appearances, let Huxley, by now a good friend, manage this part of the debate. The pugnacious Huxley, who loved public argument as much as Darwin loathed it, had his own reasons for taking up the cause, and did so with enthusiasm. He wrote three reviews of Origin of Species, defended human evolution at the Oxford meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1860 (when Bishop Samuel Wilberforce jokingly asked whether the apes were on Huxley’s grandmother’s or grandfather’s side), and published his own book on human evolution, Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (1863). What Huxley championed was Darwin’s evolutionary naturalism, his nonmiraculous assumptions, which pushed biological science into previously taboo areas and increased the power of Huxley’s professionals. And it was they who gained the Royal Society’s Copley Medal for Darwin in 1864.
Huxley’s reaction, with its enthusiasm for evolution and cooler opinion of natural selection, was typical. Natural selection—the “law of higgledy-piggledy” in Herschel’s dismissive words—received little support in Darwin’s day. By contrast, evolution itself (“descent,” Darwin called it—the word evolution would only be introduced in the last, 1872, edition of the Origin) was being acknowledged from British Association platforms by 1866. That year, too, Darwin met his German admirer, the zoologist Ernst Haeckel, whose proselytizing would spread Darwinismus through the Prussian world. Two years later the King of Prussia conferred on Darwin the order Pour le Mérite.