Homestead Act

(1862)

On May 20, 1862, Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. president from the prairie state of Illinois, signed the Homestead Act into law. He enacted one of the most liberal land laws in history, a policy that theoretically gave free land to actual settlers. The Homestead Act granted adult heads of families 160 acres of surveyed public land, given five years of continuous residence on the land and payment of a government filing fee. The law's passage was the culmination of almost eighty years of debate. Homesteading symbolized many of the aspirations of Jeffersonian republicanism. From the opening years of the American republic, policy makers including Thomas Jefferson had sought to devise a rational federal land policy with the twin goals of generating much-needed revenue for the national treasury and transferring public lands into private hands. They believed an effective federal land policy also would facilitate the orderly westward expansion and settlement of citizens and the spread...

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Galusha Grow, father of the Homestead Act (Library of Congress)

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