Homestead Act 12 Stat. 392 (1862)

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HOMESTEAD ACT 12 Stat. 392 (1862)

The Homestead Act provided for distribution of public land to settlers who would live on the land and improve it. As enacted in 1862, the act provided for allocation of a quarter section (160 acres) to a homesteader who lived on it for five years and paid a ten dollar fee. The act was sponsored by Speaker of the House Galusha A. Grow (Republican of Pennsylvania), and its passage culminated more than a decade's efforts.

The act bespoke a national commitment to the farmer-freeholder as the prototypical American citizen. The system it established was designed, among other things, to solve the problem of slavery in the territories by insuring a permanent antislavery majority there; and, for that reason, earlier proposals for a homestead bill were supported by the Liberty and Free Soil parties. The homestead program populated the Midwest and plains with hundreds of thousands of independent farmers, and allowed rapid conversion of wilderness territories into states.

The act was repealed in 1910, a victim of fraud and inefficiency, as well as of an antipathy during the Progressive era toward distribution of public land. In a little less than half a century, over 100 million acres had been distributed under the act.

Dennis J. Mahoney