Homestead Act


Homestead Act



thumb|Certificate of homestead given under the Homestead Act in Nebraska, 1868.The Homestead Act was a United States Federal law that gave an applicant freehold title to 160 acres (one quarter section or about 65 hectares)-640 acres (one section or about 260 hectares) of undeveloped land outside of the original 13 colonies. The new law required three steps: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title. Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. Government, including freed slaves, could file an application and improvements to a local land office. The Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862cite web
url=http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=31
title=Our Documents - Homestead Act (1862)
] cite web
url=http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/Homestead.html
title=Homestead Act: Primary Documents in American History
publisher=Library of Congress
date=2007-09-21
accessdate=2007-11-22
] . Eventually 1.6 million homesteads were granted and convert|270000000|acre|km2 were privatized between 1862 and 1986, a total of 10% of all lands in the United States. [ [http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/homestead-act/ The Homestead Act of 1862 ] ]

Background

The Homestead Act was intended to liberalize the homesteading requirements of the Preemption Act of 1841. The "yeoman farmer" ideal was powerful in American political history, and plans for expanding their numbers through a homestead act were rooted in the 1850s. The South resisted, fearing the increase in free farmers would threaten plantation slavery. [ Phillips, 2000 ] [McPherson 193] Two men stood out as greatly responsible for the passage of the Homestead Act: George Henry Evans and Horace Greeley [McElroy page 1 par. 4] [Horace par. 3] . Agitation for free land started in 1844, when several bills began to be introduced unsuccessfully until 1862 [McPherson 194] . After the South seceded and their delegations left Congress in 1861, the path was clear of obstacles, and the act was passed.McPherson 450-451] cite web
url=http://www.netside.net/~c3i/act.htm
title=The Florida Homestead Act of 1862
date=2006
accessdate=2007-11-22
publisher=Florida Homestead Services
(paragraphs.3,6&13) (Includes data on the U.S. Homestead Act)] [McElroy page 2 par. 14] .

The end of homesteading

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 ended homesteading [cite book
url=http://books.google.com/books?id=-3xliUQx6boC&pg=PA21&lpg=PA21&ots=btm1lqK_1Z&dq=end+homesteading&sig=JR9VHjkWCBUgThCRUakxFjRbEnw
title=Arctic Homestead: The True Story of a Family's Survival and Courage....
first=Norma
last=Cobb
publisher=St. Martin's Press
date=2000
accessdate=2007-11-22
isbn=0312283792
pages=p. 21
] ; the government believed that the best use of public homes was for them to remain in government control. The only exception to this new policy was in Alaska, for which the law allowed homesteading until 1986.

The last claim under the Homestead Act was made by Kenneth Deardorff for 80 acres (32 hectares) of land on the Stony River in southwestern Alaska. He fulfilled all requirements of the Homestead Act in 1979, but he did not actually receive his deed until May 1988. Therefore, he is the last person to receive the title to land claimed under the provisions of the Homestead Actcite web
url=http://www.nps.gov/home/historyculture/lasthomesteader.htm
title=The Last Homesteader
publisher=National Park Service
date=2006
accessdate=2007-11-22
] .

Criticism

Fraud and corporate use

The Homestead Act was much abused. The intent of the Homestead Act was to grant land for agriculture. However, in the arid areas west of the Rocky Mountains, convert|640|acre|km2 was generally too little land for a viable farm (at least prior to major public investments in irrigation projects). In these areas, homesteads were instead used to control resources, especially water. A common scheme was for an individual acting as a front for a large cattle operation to file for a homestead surrounding a water source under the pretense that the land was being used as a farm. Once granted, use of that water source would be denied to other cattle ranchers, effectively closing off the adjacent public land to competitionfact|date=November 2007. This method could also be used to gain ownership of timber and oil-producing land, as the Federal government charged royalties for extraction of these resources from public lands. On the other hand, homesteading schemes were generally pointless for land containing "locatable minerals", such as gold and silver, which could be controlled through mining claims and for which the Federal government did not charge royalties.

There was no systematic method used to evaluate claims under the Homestead Act. Land offices would rely on affidavits from witnesses that the claimant had lived on the land for the required period of time and made the required improvements. In practice, some of these witnesses were bribed or otherwise collaborated with the claimantfact|date=November 2007. In any case the land was turned into farms.

Although not necessarily fraud, it was common practice for all the children of a large family who were eligible to claim nearby land as soon as possible. After a few generations a family could build up quite sizable estatesfact|date=February 2008.

Environmental harm

The Homestead Act has been blamed for contributing to the dust bowl. Since the Act limited claims to 160-640 acres when the West was settled between 1880 and 1925, it resulted in a preponderance of small farms whose poor practices led to erosion. [http://www.perc.org/articles/article505.php] According to Hansen and Libecap, if farms had been convert|1500|acre|km2 in size rather than their actual convert|500|acre|km2, farmers individually would have adopted the very practices that were subsequently imposed by soil conservation districts. [Hansen, Zeynep K., and Gary D. Libecap. 2004. Small Farms, Externalities, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Journal of Political Economy 112(3): 665-94.] It should be noted that working a farm of 1500 acres would not have been feasible for a homesteader using 19th century animal-powered tilling and harvesting. The acreage limits were reasonable when the act was written.

Related acts in other countries

The act was later imitated with some modifications by Canada in the form of the Dominion Lands Act. Similar acts—usually termed the Selection Acts—were passed in the various Australian colonies in the 1860s, beginning in 1861 in New South Wales.

Popular culture

* In the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder ("Little House on the Prairie" series), she describes her father claiming a homestead in Kansas, and later Dakota Territory.
* The Homestead Act is used as the ruse to allow "The Amazing Screw-On Head" to investigate paranormal activities west of the Mississippi River without arousing Confederate suspicion.

ee also

* Land Act of 1804
* Military Tract of 1812
* Preemption Act of 1841
* Donation Land Claim Act of 1850
* Public Land Survey System
* Land grants
* Land patent

Further reading


*Dick, Everett, 1970. "The Lure of the Land: A Social History of the Public Lands from the Articles of Confederation to the New Deal".
*Gates, Paul W., 1996. "The Jeffersonian Dream: Studies in the History of American Land Policy and Development".
*Hyman, Harold M., 1986. "American Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 G.I. Bill".
* Lause, Mark A., 2005. "Young America: Land, Labor, and the Republican Community".
* Phillips, Sarah T., 2000, "Antebellum Agricultural Reform, Republican Ideology, and Sectional Tension." "Agricultural History 74(4)": 799-822. ISSN 0002-1482
* Richardson, Heather Cox, 1997. "The Greatest Nation of the Earth: Republican Economic Policies during the Civil War".
* Robbins, Roy M., 1942. "Our Landed Heritage: The Public Domain, 1776-1936".
* Smith, Henry Nash. "Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth". New York: Vintage, 1959.

References and Notes

* cite web
url=http://www.tulane.edu/~latner/Greeley.html
title=Horace Greeley
accessdate=2007-11-22
date=August 13 1999
publisher=Tulane University

* cite web
url=http://www.fff.org/freedom/0501e.asp
title=The Free-Soil Movement, Part 1
publisher=The Future of Freedom Foundation
first=Wendy
last=McElroy
date=2001
accessdate=2007-11-22

* cite book
url=http://books.google.com/books?id=-uuEA7xIUHUC&pg=PA194&lpg=PA194&dq=southern+opposition+homesteading&source=web&ots=MO2c-7xl56&sig=q21-KEW-IKDYU-EEyxkmONceL8s
title=Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
first=James M.
last=McPherson
date=1998
publisher=Oxford University Press
isbn=019516895X
pages=pp. 193-195

External links

* [http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/Homestead.html Library of Congress: Homestead Act]
* [http://www.nps.gov/home/index.htm Homestead National Monument of America - National Park Service]
* [http://www.nps.gov/archive/home/homestead_act.html Homestead Act - National Park Service] (broken link)
* [http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/homestead-act/index.html Homestead Act of 1862 - National Archives and Records Administration]
* [http://content.lib.washington.edu/cmpweb/exhibits/homesteading/index.html University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections – Homesteaders and Pioneers.] Online museum exhibit that documents the history of several families who moved to the Olympic Peninsula following the Homestead Act of 1862
* [http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/67hornbek/67hornbek.htm "“Adeline Hornbek and the Homestead Act: A Colorado Success Story”", a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan]


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