Homestead Act

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Homestead Act

Homestead Act, 1862, passed by the U.S. Congress. It provided for the transfer of 160 acres (65 hectares) of unoccupied public land to each homesteader on payment of a nominal fee after five years of residence; land could also be acquired after six months of residence at $1.25 an acre. The government had previously sold land to settlers in the West for revenue purposes. As the West became politically stronger, however, pressure was increased upon Congress to guarantee free land to settlers (see Foot Resolution; Preemption Act). Several bills providing for free distribution of land were defeated in Congress; in 1860 a bill was passed in Congress but was vetoed by President Buchanan. With the ascendancy of the Republican party (which had committed itself to homestead legislation) and with the secession of the South (which had opposed free distribution of land), the Homestead Act, sponsored by Galusha A. Grow, became law. In 1976 it expired in all the states but Alaska, where it ended in 1986.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Homestead Act


in the USA a land allotment law passed in May 1862 during the Civil War (1861–65), under pressure of the mass of people and the radical wing of the Republican Party.

According to the Homestead Act any US citizen who had reached 21 years of age and who had not fought for the South against the North could receive a piece of land not more than 160 acres (65 hectares) in area from the general land fund after paying a registration tax of $10. A settler who was working the land and who had begun building on it received the property rights to that land free after five years. Rights to the plot could also be acquired immediately, upon payment of $1.25 per acre. This opened up great opportunities for capitalists to receive the best lands and to speculate with them. Under the Homestead Act approximately 2 million homesteads were distributed in the USA, with a total area of 285 million acres (115 million hectares). The passage of the Homestead Act and of measures against slavery carried out during the Civil War and Reconstruction was a significant victory on a national scale for the farmers’ “American” way of developing capitalism in agriculture, which ensured “the most rapid development of productive forces under conditions which are more favorable for the mass of the people than any others under capitalism” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 17, p. 150). The development of capitalism in agriculture intensified the process of class stratification among farmers and the proletarianization of the majority of them.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 15, p. 542.
Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 17, pp. 129, 150–51; vol. 27, pp. 129–227.
Kuropiatnik, G. P. “Zakon o gomstedakh i “amerikanskii” put’ razvitiia kapitalizma v sel’skom khoziaistve.” In the collection K stoletiiu Grazhdanskoi voiny v SShA. Moscow, 1961.
Kuropiatnik, G. P. Fermerskoe dvizhenie v SShA ot greindzherov k Narodnoi partii: 1867–1896. Moscow, 1971.
Gates, P. W. “The Homestead Act: Free Land Policy in Operation, 1862–1935.” In Land Use Policy and Problems in the United States. Lincoln, 1963.
Gates, P. W. History of Public Land Law Development. Washington, D. C., 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
House of Representatives to extend the provisions of the Homestead Act (42) to part of Alaska in order to encourage migration needed to support economic development.
It is ironic that on the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act, which gave millions the right to free land and paved the way to the settlement of the West, the biggest threat to the family farm remains the tax system.
Department of Agriculture and the Homestead Act, which granted plots of land in the West for settlers to farm.
That year, Congress not onlyfa created USDA, but also supported the building of the transcontinental railroad, passed the Homestead Act and established the Land Grant University System.
Different versions of the concept, such as the Homestead Act and the GI Bill have been tried, and many had good success.
Louis, Missouri, in a matter of hours--but he envisioned a much different future: The Homestead Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln the previous May, was slated to go into effect the next day, granting 160 acres of free, federally owned land to anyone who had never raised arms against the U.S.
In 1896, Papa's older brothers learned of the Homestead Act in the United States.
And as he protected his EUR3.4million Cape Cod mansion under the Homestead Act, as revealed by the Irish Daily Mirror in March, he will be able to keep his home.
President Lincoln, even in the midst of a brutally destructive Civil War, thought it important to charter a transcontinental railway, to sign the Homestead Act that made millions of Americans property owners for the first time, and to establish land grant colleges to train farmers and workers.
Through misguided notions of early settlers and political actions such as the Homestead Act, Americans embarked upon an unsustainable system of agriculture and ranching based on the notion of private property.
When the choice is between rehabilitating the land or starving, perhaps the government can subsidize the new homesteads with a New Homestead Act providing a few years of free tools and tax breaks to community-owned farms.
In chapter four, "Community Life," Heading West describes the lives of pioneers that held jobs besides farming and the people who began moving into towns as a result of the Homestead Act. Check out these two activities your students can do once you go over the history of this time period: