the Homestead Acts


The Homestead Acts were several laws in the United States by which an applicant could acquire ownership of government land or the public domain, typically called a "homestead.”

The Homestead Act by Bobblehead George


In all, more than 270 million acres of public land, or nearly 10% of the total area of the U.S., was given away free to 1.6 million homesteaders; most of the homesteads were west of the Mississippi River.

In all modern states, some land is held by central or local governments.

The Homestead Act of 1862 Explained: US History Review by Hip Hughes


An extension of the Homestead Principle in law, the Homestead Acts were an expression of the "Free Soil" policy of Northerners who wanted individual farmers to own and operate their own farms, as opposed to Southern slave-owners who wanted to buy up large tracts of land and use slave labor, thereby shutting out free white farmers.

The Free Soil Party was a short-lived political party in the United States active in the 1848 and 1852 presidential elections, and in some state elections.


The first of the acts, the Homestead Act of 1862, opened up millions of acres.


Any adult who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government could apply.


Women and immigrants who had applied for citizenship were eligible.


The 1866 Act explicitly included black Americans and encouraged them to participate, but rampant discrimination slowed black gains.


Historian Michael Lanza argues that while the 1866 law pack was not as beneficial as it might have been, it was part of the reason that by 1900 one fourth of all Southern black farmers owned their own farms.


Several additional laws were enacted in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries.


The Southern Homestead Act of 1866 sought to address land ownership inequalities in the south during Reconstruction.

The Southern Homestead Act of 1866 is a United States federal law enacted to break a cycle of debt during the Reconstruction following the American Civil War.


The Timber Culture Act of 1873 granted land to a claimant who was required to plant trees—the tract could be added to an existing homestead claim and had no residency requirement.


The Kinkaid Amendment of 1904 granted a full section to new homesteaders settling in western Nebraska.


An amendment to the Homestead Act of 1862, the Enlarged Homestead Act, was passed in 1909 and doubled the allotted acreage from 160 to 320 acres.


Another amended act, the national Stock-Raising Homestead Act, was passed in 1916 and again increased the land involved, this time to 640 acres.

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