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Preemption Act

Preemption Act, statute passed (1841) by the U.S. Congress in response to the demands of the Western states that squatters be allowed to preempt lands. Pioneers often settled on public lands before they could be surveyed and auctioned by the U.S. government. At first the squatter claims were not recognized, but in 1830 the first of a series of temporary preemption laws was passed by Congress. Opposition to preemption came from Eastern states, which saw any encouragement of western migration as a threat to their labor supply.

A permanent preemption act was passed only after the Eastern states had been placated by the principle of distribution (i.e., the proceeds of the government land sales would be distributed among the states according to population). Distribution was discarded in 1842, but the preemption principle survived. The act of 1841 permitted settlers to stake a claim of 160 acres (65 hectares) and after about 14 months of residence to purchase it from the government for as little as $1.25 an acre before it was offered for public sale. After the passage (1862) of the Homestead Act, the value of preemption for bona fide settlers declined, and the practice more and more became a tool for speculators. Congress repealed the Preemption Act in 1891.

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Tyler Preemption Act of 1841

TYLER PREEMPTION ACT OF 1841


The Preemption Act, passed in 1841 during the administration of tenth president of the United States John Tyler (17901862), was a response to the widespread practice of squattingillegally settling lands that had not been surveyed and were not yet for sale. During the first three decades of the 1800s the American West received an influx of settlers. The government's system of surveying lands before putting them on the market could not keep up with the demand for property. New arrivals on the frontier simply settled public lands, often building on them and working the land. The Preemption Act exonerated these trespassers by allowing any citizen or any immigrant who intended to become a citizen to purchase 160 acres (64.7 hectares) of public land at the minimum price as long as he had occupied and cultivated the land, and had built a cabin or other dwelling on the tract. This act, combined with Congressional legislation that offered less desirable surveyed tracts at gradually reduced rates, contributed to the settlement of the West and the Old Northwest (the present-day states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota).

See also: Northwest Ordinance, Old Northwest

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