The Homestead Act helped to expand and develop the United States because it granted land for agriculture. It allowed people to acquire land west of the Mississippi River and to settle it. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862.
What was the Homestead Act?
The Homestead Act was a way for the pioneers to get land. The government said that any U.S. citizen who did not fight against the government could file an application to receive land.
A citizen could get up to 160 acres of land, as long as they were 21 years old or older. The pioneers had to live on the land and improve the new land over 5 years. They had to clear the land, build a home, and grow crops on the land. In addition, the pioneers had to show that they lived on the land. The citizen had to meet all of the requirements before they could claim the land. Therefore, this was a three fold process.
The pioneer had to:
1.) file an application (see Image 1 below),
2.) improve the land (see Image 2 below), and
3.) file for the title deed (see Image 3 below).
Why was the Homestead Act important?
The Homestead Act was very important because it made a significant change in settling land further west. In the overpopulated eastern states, the Homestead Act encouraged people to move west and settle the land further west. The eastern states that were overpopulated became less populated because the pioneers left those states so they could have their own land.
Before the Homestead Act, the government tried to get as much land as possible, but after the Homestead Act, the government began giving land to the general public. This was done so the land would become used and settled by the pioneers.
The Homestead Act also gave former slaves a chance to own their own land, house, and farm. A free slave can have free land. However, a slave would continue to work for his master.
However, the land was given to farmers at a very low cost, homesteading took land that had been cleared of Native Americans. So it went from self-governing Native American tribes to taxpaying farmers.
Getting the land was easy, but the conditions on the land made it have greater challenges. The open plains had fewer trees for resources and less water.
Since there wasn't a good lumber supply available to them, the pioneers had to learn how to build sod houses called soddies. The Homesteaders learned to mix in grass and mud to make the sod stick for their houses. (see Image 4 below)
While 160 acres may have been sufficient for an eastern farmer, it was simply not enough to sustain agriculture on the dry plains, and scarce natural vegetation made raising livestock on the prairie difficult.
Wind, blizzards, and plagues of insects threatened crops. Limited fuel and water supplies could turn simple cooking and heating chores into difficult trials.
Because of the hardship in many areas, the original homesteader did not stay on the land long enough to fulfill the claim.
The Homestead Act Comes to an End
Over the years, changes were made to the original Homestead Act. Believe it or not, pioneers kept settling land through the Homestead Act up until the 1900's. In the 1900's , most of the homesteading land was in Alaska.
The Homestead Act was officially repelled, or ended, in 1976! The government did not take anymore applications for homesteads.
Copyright © 2011 Terry Hongell - Pocantico Hills School