Homestead Act Provides Free Land
May 20, 1862
President Lincoln and Union leaders are preoccupied with the Civil War, but Congress found time today to pass legislation intended to promote the westward movement—the Homestead Act. Any citizen or intended citizen (immigrant) who is over the age of 21 and is the head of a household may claim 160 acres of surveyed public land. The land is free.
After residing on and improving (plowing and crop planting) the land for five years, the homesteader will obtain clear title to the farm by paying small federal fees (never more than $34). Those who intend to take advantage of the generous offer, however, must build a house on the property, usually at a cost of $75 to $150. Essential livestock and equipment will run perspective homesteaders between $500 and $700. The land is free, but homesteaders must have the financial wherewithal to begin farming.
The Homestead Act does not replace the existing Pre-emption Act of 1841. Under terms of that law people may still purchase 160 acres of federal public land for $1.25 an acre or $200. Compared to the cost of buying private land (mostly owned by railroads) at $2.50 an acre, the Pre-emption Act still offers a bargain. For those who do not have the ready cash, the new Homestead Act will provide thousands of people with the chance to begin farming in the American West.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council