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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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.
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