Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its greatest constitutional, military, and moral crisis—the American Civil War—and in so doing preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the national government and modernized the economy. Reared in a poor family on the western frontier, Lincoln was self-educated, and became a country lawyer, a Whig Party leader, Illinois state legislator during the 1830s, and a one-term member of the United States House of Representatives during the 1840s. He promoted rapid modernization of the economy through banks, canals, railroads and tariffs to encourage the building of factories; he opposed the war with Mexico in 1846.
After a series of highly publicized debates in 1858 during which he opposed the expansion of slavery, Lincoln lost the U.S. Senate race in Illinois to his archrival, Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln, a moderate from a swing state, secured the Republican Party presidential nomination in 1860. With almost no support in the South, Lincoln swept the North and was elected president in 1860. His election prompted seven southern slave states to declare their secession from the Union and form the Confederacy. The departure of the Democratic politicians to lead the Confederacy gave Lincoln's party firm control of Congress. The Republican politicians promptly enacted much of their party platform, including a high tariff, free land for colleges in every state (Morrill Act of 1862), new banking laws, free land for settlers (Homestead Act of 1862), free land for the transcontinental railroad, and a new US Department of Agriculture. No formula for compromise or reconciliation was found regarding slavery. Lincoln explained in his second inaugural address: "Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the Nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came."