It was Abraham Lincoln who paved the way for the Bay State’s university system. In June 1862, both houses of the US Congress passed the Morrill Act, a bill sponsored by Vermont congressman Justin Smith Morrill, calling for the creation of public land-grant colleges and universities.
The legislation — its official title was An Act Donating Public Lands to the Several States and Territories Which May Provide Colleges for the Benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts — gave large tracts of federal land to each state. States in turn sold the land and used the proceeds to fund public colleges.
Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law on July 2, 1862, and the next year the Massachusetts Agricultural College was founded. It admitted its first freshman class in the fall of 1867, 2½ years after Lincoln was assassinated.