passed by Congress
in 1862 which granted huge tracts of land
(well, 160 acre
s at any rate) to U.S. citizen
s, provided they met certain criteria
. Principally, the grantee had to live on and cultivate
the land for five year
s. After this time, the land became theirs, with a small up-front fee
. The passage of this act
was fought for by many groups, including the Free-Soil Party
, which saw large land grant
s as a means to prevent slavery in the expanding west
. The southern states
, later the Confederacy
, were outspoken opponent
s of this plan. Their secession
, however, led to its becoming law
on Jan. 1, 1863.
To claim the land one had to either plant and successfully cultivate 10 acres of timber (called a "tree claim"), or build a house on the land, plow 10 acres, build a well, and fence off a portion of the property. Also, one had to live continuously on that land and not use it to benefit other corporations or interests. For many naturalized immigrants, and other Americans, this was quite a bargain. For the displaced Native Americans who previously lived on this land, it wasn't nearly as good a bargain.
Sections 1-2 are shown below, with Sections 3-8 omitted.
The Homestead Act
May 20, 1862
(U. S. Statutes at Large, Vol. XII, p. 392 ff.)
AN ACT to secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain.
Be it enacted, That any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such, as required by the naturalization laws of the United States, and who has never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies, shall, from and after the first of January, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, be entitled to enter one quarter-section or a less quantity of unappropriated public lands, upon which said person may have filed a pre-emption claim, or which may, at the time the application is made, be subject to pre-emption at one dollar and twenty-five cents, or less, per acre; or eighty acres or less of such unappropriated lands, at two dollars and fifty cents per acre, to be located in a body, in conformity to the legal subdivisions of the public lands, and after the same shall have been surveyed: Provided, That any person owning or residing on land may, under the provisions of this act, enter other land lying contiguous to his or her said land, which shall not, with the land so already owned and occupied, exceed in the aggregate one hundred and sixty acres.
Sec. 2. That the person applying for the benefit of this act shall, upon application to the register of the land office in which he or she is about to make such entry, make affidavit before the said register or receiver that he or she is the head of a family, or is twenty-one or more years of age, or shall have performed service in the Army or Navy of the United States, and that he has never borne arms against the Government of the United States or given aid and comfort to its enemies, and that such application is made for his or her exclusive use and benefit, and that said entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation, and not, either directly or indirectly, for the use or benefit of any other person or persons whomsoever; and upon filing the said affidavit with the register or receiver, and on payment of ten dollars, he or she shall thereupon he permitted to enter the quantity of land specified: Provided, however, That no certificate shall be given or patent issued therefor until the expiration of five years from the date of such entry; and if, at the expiration of such time, or at any time within two years thereafter, the person making such entry -- or if he be dead, his widow; or in case of her death, his heirs or devisee; or in case of a widow making such entry, her heirs or devisee, in case of her death -- shall prove by two credible witnesses that he, she, or they have resided upon or cultivated the same for the term of five years immediately succeeding the time of filing the affidavit aforesaid, and shall make affidavit that no part of said land has been alienated, and that he has borne true allegiance to the Government of the United States; then, in such case, he, she, or they, if at that time a citizen of the United States, shall be entitled to a patent, as in other cases provided for by law: And provided, further, that in case of the death of both father and mother, leaving an infant child or children under twenty-one years of age, the right and fee shall inure to the benefit of said infant child or children, and the executor, administrator, or guardian may, at any time within two years after the death of the surviving parent, and in accordance with the laws of the State in which such children for the time being have their domicile, sell said land for the benefit of said infants, but for no other purpose; and the purchaser shall acquire the absolute title by the purchase, and be entitled to a patent from the United States, and payment of the office fees and sum of money herein specified.. ..