This Day in History-May 20, 1862
President Lincoln Signs Homestead Act
On May 20, 1862, President Lincoln, signed the Homestead Act, which opened up public land to small family. The new law gave each person who was the head of a family, a 160-acre tract of land for five years. The purpose was so that each person who received the land could try his hand at farming. The person had to be at least 21 years old and was required to construct a house on the property.
As an alternative, farmers were also offered an option to buy the 160 acres at the very reasonable rate of $1.25 per acre for only six months. Many would=be farmers and pioneers weren’t able to handle the rigors of frontier life, and so would give up farming before the five years was completed. if a homesteader was to quit or was unable to succeed at farming, the land than reverted back to government control, and was offered to the public again. If, after the completion of the five years, a homesteader was able to prove his or her farming success. than he or she would pay a $18 filing fee, and would receive a certificate and deed to the land.
Similar acts had been proposed prior to the Civil War, in 1852, 1854, and 1859, however, these were rejected by a rather powerful southern lobby, who were fearful that homesteaders could populate territories which could be admitted to the union as “free states,” which would give more power to the abolitionists. In addition to this, many of those in the northern manufacturing industry feared that the Homestead Act would draw away the labor pool into farming on the frontier. Giving into pressure from the southern lobby, President James Buchanan, in 1860, vetoed a similar bill. With the Civil War going on, and the southern slave states having seceded and out of the legislative process, President Lincoln and the Republican-controlled congress saw an opportunity presenting itself to open the west to settlement.
By the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, 15,000 people had made homesteading claims in territories which would become the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. Some of these individuals were genuinely hoping to start a new life, however, some abused the program. Some of them who purchased land were acting as a front for land speculators who wanted to mine the untapped land for timber and water resources. These speculators would offer to pay individuals or offered them a share in the profits in return for submitting a Homestead Act claim. By 1900, settlers had accumulated 80 million acres of land via the Homestead Act. So as to make way for these homesteaders, the United States government forced Native American tribes off their land lands onto reservations.
A Civil War veteran and doctor named Daniel Freeman would file the first Homestead Act claim on January 1, 1863. The act was repealed by the U.S. Congress in 1976.
Source Article: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-signs-homestead-act
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