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The Homestead Act of 1862

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

 Suggested Sequencing

  • Use this Primary Source once students have an understanding of manifest destiny and western expansion to have them analyze the incentivization of moving westward under the Homestead Act.


The Homestead Act was passed to encourage the settlement of new western frontier lands. In addition to the development of this land, with the Homestead Act, people were encouraged to establish small, independent farms. The Republicans in particular advocated this position, because it fit their vision of the founding principles of the United States—a vision closely tied to that of the Jefferson Ian “yeoman farmer” as the ideal American. Jeffersonians, in turn, reflected John Locke’s view that property is acquired when a person mixes his or her labour with nature, improving it for his or her purposes. The Homestead Act sought to economically develop the resources of the American frontier while encouraging personal development in those who would serve to expand American democratic principles.

Sourcing Questions

  1. What had changed in the United States during the nineteenth century that created a need for a Homestead Act?
  2. How might the Civil War have played a role in the conditions of the Homestead Act?

Vocabulary Text
section(n): Under U.S. land surveying, a square mile. A quarter section was 40 acres of land Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such, as required by the naturalization laws of the United States, and who has never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies, shall, from and after the first January, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, be entitled to enter one quarter section or a less quantity of unappropriated public lands . . .
cultivation(n): the act of using land to grow crops and raise livestock; farming That the person applying for the benefit of this act shall, upon application to the register of the land office in which he or she is about to make such entry, make affidavit . . .that such application is made for his or her exclusive use and benefit, and that said entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation, and not either directly or indirectly for the use of benefit of any other person or persons whomsoever; and upon filing the said affidavit with the register or receiver, and on payment of ten dollars, he or she shall thereupon be permitted to enter the quantity of land specified: Provided, however, That no certificate shall be given or patent issued therefore until the expiration of five years from the date of such entry. . .
title(n): a legal document giving the holder full ownership of a plot of land And be it further enacted, That no individual shall be permitted to acquire title to more than one quarter section under the provisions of this act; and that the Commissioner of the General Land Office is hereby required to prepare and issue such rules and regulations, consistent with this act, as shall be necessary and proper to carry its provisions into effect; . . .Provided, That nothing contained in this act shall be so construed as to impair or interfere in any manner whatever with existing preemption rights; And provided, further, That all persons who may have filed their application for a preemption right prior to the passage of this act, shall be entitled to all privileges of this act: Provided, further, That no person who has served, or may hereafter serve, for a period of not less than fourteen days in the army or navy of the United States, either regular or volunteers under the laws thereof, during the existence of an actual war, domestic or foreign, shall be deprived of the benefits of this act on account of not having attained the age of twenty-one years. . . .
That nothing in this act shall be so construed as to prevent any person who has availed him or herself of the benefits of the first section of this act, from paying the minimum price, or the price to which the same may have graduated, for the quantity of land so entered at any time before the expiration of the five years, and obtaining a patent therefore from the government, as in other cases provided by law, on making proof of settlement and cultivation as provided by existing laws granting preemption rights.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What conditions did applicants have to meet to receive land under the Homestead Act?
  2. Under this act, how much land could the applicant receive?
  3. What was required by those who received land grants?
  4. What was forbidden of those who received land grants?
  5. How long must a settler have lived and farmed on the land grant before receiving title to the land permanently?
  6. What limit was placed on those who received land grants?
  7. Based on this language, could women become landowners under the Homestead Act?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Explain how the granting of arable land served the national interest of the U.S. government.
  2. Explain how the Homestead Act illustrated a continuity of American republican principles.

The Homestead Act of 1862,pdf,homestead%20act,txt.pdf

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