What was so important about the Homestead Act?

Parents’ Roles Read more from
Chapter The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Passed by Congress in April 1862, the Homestead Act opened up millions of acres of federal land for sale to individuals and families. The sale of federal lands had been going on for some time previous to the war, but the Homestead Act confirmed most of what was good about the system of land sales.

For $160 a person could obtain 160 acres of land, usually in the Far West. He or she had to “hold” or possess the land for five years and demonstrate that it was being put to good use; at the end of that probationary period, the land belonged to him or her in perpetuity. Just how many lives were altered and improved remains unknown, but one suspects that it runs into the millions. Of course, the Homestead Act did not open easily ploughed lands in the East; it offered opportunity to the person willing to brave the dangers and hazards of the West. Another way to look at the situation is to inquire what might have happened had there been no Homestead Act. One suspects it would have taken much longer to populate the Far Western states.


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