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, aWhig 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."
When the North enthusiastically rallied behind the national flag after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Lincoln concentrated on the military and political dimensions of the war effort. His goal was to reunite the nation. He suspended habeas corpus, arresting and temporarily detaining thousands of suspected secessionists in the border states without trial. Lincoln averted British recognition of the Confederacy by defusing the Trent affair in late 1861. His numerous complex moves toward ending slavery centered on the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, using the Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraging the border states to outlaw slavery, and helping push through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery. Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including commanding general Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln brought leaders of the major factions of his party into his cabinet and pressured them to cooperate. Lincoln's Navy set up a naval blockade that shut down the South's normal trade, helped take control of Kentucky and Tennessee, and gained control of the Southern river system using gunboats. He tried repeatedly to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. Each time a general failed, Lincoln substituted another until finally Grant succeeded in 1865.
An exceptionally astute politician deeply involved with power issues in each state, Lincoln reached out to "War Democrats" (who supported the North against the South), and managed his own re-election in the 1864 presidential election. As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican party, Lincoln found his policies and personality were "blasted from all sides": Radical Republicans demanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats desired more compromise, Copperheads despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists plotted his death. Politically, Lincoln fought back with patronage, by pitting his opponents against each other, and by appealing to the American people with his powers of oratory. His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became the most quoted speech in American history. It was an iconic statement of America's dedication to the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy. At the close of the war, Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness. Six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, however, Lincoln was assassinated by an actor and Confederate sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln's death was the first assassination of a U.S. president and sent the nation into mourning. Lincoln has been consistently ranked both by scholars and the public as one of the greatest U.S. presidents.