Homestead Act 1862


During the 19th century, the United States of America was rapidly expanding towards the west. By the middle of the century, USA had huge parcels of lands in the west but nearly no people lived on those lands. So the US government passed the Homestead Act which was meant to encourage people to go into the Wild West and live there.

The Northern politicians in USA also supported common farmers and believed that the new land should be given to small farmers rather than wealthy planters. This was because planters usually used slaves on their lands and the Northern states were opposed to slavery.

What was the Homestead Act?

The Homestead Act was passed in 1862. This was a time when the American Civil War was going on and the southern states had separated from the US government. So the northern states passed the Homestead Act which states that any person above the age of 21 could claim land in the Wild West.

Each person who filed for land was eligible to receive 160 acres of public land. Most of this land was towards the east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Mississippi River. Moreover, anyone who received the land was required to live on it for at least 5 years and make improvements to it. If he or she fulfilled these requirements, he could then file for deed of title and become the permanent owner of the land.

Did people like the Act?

This was a great opportunity for thousands of people in USA to go into the West and become owners of land. Especially for the immigrants who arrived in USA with little or no belongings and very few opportunities, this was a great way of getting their piece of land and starting their own work. Thousands of people soon started flocking towards the West in order to become the owners of land. This led to many land rushes.

Land Rushes

When the American government wanted to give land in some specific part of the West, it would announce this beforehand. In this way, the government gave the land to the people in several episodes. Every time the government announced that it would be giving ownership of a specific parcel of land, thousands of people would flock to that part in order to get their hands on new land.

This came to be known as land rush. Many such land rushes took place during the 19th century. One of the most notable of these was the Oklahoma Land Rush. During this land rush, the American government announced that it would be giving 2,000,000 acres of land to those who were ready to claim it.

This was a good piece of land with plenty of water and good agricultural prospects. So nearly 50,000 people lined up to claim the land on April 22, 1889. Many of them snuck into the land beforehand so that they could claim the best land. 10,000 of these people settled around the area which is the site of Oklahoma City today.

The Homestead Act of 1862: A Primary Source History of the Settlement of the American Heartland in the Late 19th Century (Primary Sources in American History)

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