• Congress passed the Homestead Act of 1862 and then gave away an aggregate of 160 acres of public land in the West to each applicant for a small filing fee. The intention was to populate the Western U.S. with farmers.


    An applicant had to be at least 21, the head of a family and a military veteran. Applicants had to be U.S. citizens or immigrants.


    The filing fee allowed the applicant the temporary right to occupy and farm the land. If he lived on it, improved the property and maintained it for five years, it would become his.

    Agricultural Goals

    The intention of the act was to establish an agricultural industry based on private farmers rather than slave labor.


    Speculators gained control of large areas of land by fraud and bribery. Most of the land went to the railroad and timber industries, rather than private settlers.


    Until the act was repealed in 1977, Congress made certain amendments to it, like changing the size of the acreage given away. However, the changes could not reverse the poor outcome of the law, despite its good intentions.


    Homestead Act of 1862

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