Homestead Act of 1862
The Homestead Act History
Homestead Act Transcript History
[Passed on May 20, 1862, the Homestead Act accelerated the settlement of the western territory by granting adult heads of families 160 acres of surveyed public
land for a minimal filing fee and 5 years of continuous residence on that land.]
CHAP. LXXV. —An Act to secure Homesteads to actual Settlers
on the Public Domain.
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, upon which said person may have filed a preemption
claim, or which may, at the time the application is made, be subject to preemption at one dollar and twenty-five cents, or
less, per acre; or eighty acres or less of such unappropriated lands, at two dollars and fifty cents per acre, to be located
in a body, in conformity to the legal subdivisions of the public lands, and after the same shall have been surveyed: Provided,
That any person owning and residing on land may, under the provisions of this act, enter other land lying contiguous to his
or her said land, which shall not, with the land so already owned and occupied, exceed in the aggregate one hundred and sixty
SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, 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 before the said register or receiver that he or she is the head of a family, or is twenty-one years or more of age,
or shall have performed service in the army or navy of the United States, and that he has never borne arms against the Government
of the United States or given aid and comfort to its enemies, and 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 or 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 therefor until the expiration of five years from the
date of such entry ; and if, at the expiration of such time, or at any time within two years thereafter, the person making
such entry ; or, if he be dead, his widow; or in case of her death, his heirs or devisee; or in case of a widow making such
entry, her heirs or devisee, in case of her death; shall. prove by two credible witnesses that he, she, or they have resided
upon or cultivated the same for the term of five years immediately succeeding the time of filing the affidavit aforesaid,
and shall make affidavit that no part of said land has been alienated, and that he has borne rue allegiance to the Government
of the United States; then, in such case, he, she, or they, if at that time a citizen of the United States, shall be entitled
to a patent, as in other cases provided for by law: And provided, further, That in case of the death of both father and mother,
leaving an Infant child, or children, under twenty-one years of age, the right and fee shall ensure to the benefit of said
infant child or children ; and the executor, administrator, or guardian may, at any time within two years after the death
of the surviving parent, and in accordance with the laws of the State in which such children for the time being have their
domicil, sell said land for the benefit of said infants, but for no other purpose; and the purchaser shall acquire the absolute
title by the purchase, and be en- titled to a patent from the United States, on payment of the office fees and sum of money
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That the register of the land office shall
note all such applications on the tract books and plats of, his office, and keep a register of all such entries, and make
return thereof to the General Land Office, together with the proof upon which they have been founded.
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That no lands acquired under the provisions
of this act shall in any event become liable to the satisfaction of any debt or debts contracted prior to the issuing of the
SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That if, at any time after the filing of
the affidavit, as required in the second section of this act, and before the expiration of the five years aforesaid, it shall
be proven, after due notice to the settler, to the satisfaction of the register of the land office, that the person having
filed such affidavit shall have actually changed his or her residence, or abandoned the said land for more than six months
at any time, then and in that event the land so entered shall revert to the government.
SEC. 6. 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; and that the registers and receivers of the several land offices shall be
entitled to receive the same compensation for any lands entered under the provisions of this act that they are now entitled
to receive when the same quantity of land is entered with money, one half to be paid by the person making the application
at the time of so doing, and the other half on the issue of the certificate by the person to whom it may be issued; but this
shall not be construed to enlarge the maximum of compensation now prescribed by law for any register or receiver: 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 applications 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 volunteer, 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.
SEC. 7. And be it further enacted, That the fifth section of the act entitled"
An act in addition to an act more effectually to provide for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States, and
for other purposes," approved the third of March, in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-seven, shall extend to all oaths,
affirmations, and affidavits, required or authorized by this act.
SEC. 8. And be it further enacted, That nothing in this act shall be 80 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 therefor 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.
APPROVED, May 20, 1862.
Recommended Reading: Seizing
Destiny: The Relentless Expansion of American Territory. From Publishers Weekly: In an admirable and important addition to his distinguished oeuvre, Pulitzer Prize–winner
Kluger (Ashes to Ashes, a history of the tobacco wars) focuses on the darker side of America's rapid expansion westward. He
begins with European settlement of the so-called New World, explaining that Britain's
successful colonization depended not so much on conquest of or friendship with the Indians, but on encouraging emigration.
Kluger then fruitfully situates the American Revolution as part of the story of expansion: the Founding Fathers based their
bid for independence on assertions about the expanse of American virgin earth and after the war that very land became the
new country's main economic resource. Continued below...
The heart of
the book, not surprisingly, covers the 19th century, lingering in detail over such well-known episodes as the Louisiana Purchase
and William Seward's acquisition of Alaska. The final chapter looks at expansion in the 20th century. Kluger
provocatively suggests that, compared with western European powers, the United States
engaged in relatively little global colonization, because the closing of the western frontier sated America's expansionist hunger. Each chapter of this long, absorbing book is rewarding
as Kluger meets the high standard set by his earlier work. Includes 10 detailed maps.
Recommended Reading: Manifest
Destiny and Mission in American History (Harvard University Press). Description: "Before this book first appeared in 1963, most historians wrote
as if the continental expansion of the United States
was inevitable. 'What is most impressive,' Henry Steele Commager and Richard Morris declared in 1956, 'is the ease, the simplicity,
and seeming inevitability of the whole process.' Continued below...
The notion of 'inevitability,' however, is perhaps only a secular variation on the theme of the expansionist
editor John L. O'Sullivan, who in 1845 coined one of the most famous phrases in American history when he wrote of 'our manifest
destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying
millions.' Frederick Merk rejected inevitability in favor of a more contingent interpretation of American expansionism in
the 1840s. As his student Henry May later recalled, Merk 'loved to get the facts straight.'"
--From the Foreword by John Mack Faragher About the Author: Frederick Merk was Gurney Professor of American History,
Reading: Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right (Critical Issue Book). From Booklist:
In this concise essay, Stephanson explores the religious antecedents to America's
quest to control a continent and then an empire. He interprets the two competing definitions of destiny that sprang from the
Puritans' millenarian view toward the wilderness they settled (and natives they expelled). Here was the God-given chance to
redeem the Christian world, and that sense of a special world-historical role and opportunity has never deserted the American
national self-regard. But would that role be realized in an exemplary fashion, with America
a model for liberty, or through expansionist means to create what Jefferson called "the empire
of liberty"? Continued below…
bubbles in two periods Stephanson examines closely, the 1840s and 1890s. In those times, the journalists, intellectuals, and
presidents he quotes wrestled with America's purpose in fighting each decade's war, which added
territory and peoples that somehow had to be reconciled with the predestined future. …A sophisticated analysis of American
exceptionalism for ruminators on the country's purpose in the world.
The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861
(Paperback), by David M. Potter. Review: Professor
Potter treats an incredibly complicated and misinterpreted time period with unparalleled objectivity and insight. Potter masterfully
explains the climatic events that led to Southern secession – a greatly divided nation – and the Civil War: the social, political
and ideological conflicts; culture; American expansionism, sectionalism and popular sovereignty; economic and tariff
systems; and slavery. In other words, Potter places under the microscope the root causes
and origins of the Civil War. He conveys the subjects in easy to understand language to edify the reader's
understanding (it's not like reading some dry old history book). Delving
beyond surface meanings and interpretations, this book analyzes not only the history, but the historiography of the time period
as well. Continued below…
rejects the historian's tendency to review the period with all the benefits of hindsight. He simply traces the events, allowing
the reader a step-by-step walk through time, the various views, and contemplates the interpretations of contemporaries and
other historians. Potter then moves forward with his analysis. The Impending Crisis is the absolute gold-standard of historical
writing… This simply is the book by which, not only other antebellum era books, but all history books should be judged.
Recommended Reading: What Hath
God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
(Oxford History of the United States)
(Hardcover: 928 pages). Review: The newest volume in
the renowned Oxford History of the United States-- A brilliant portrait of an era that saw dramatic transformations in American
life The Oxford History of the United States
is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes two Pulitzer Prize winners, two New York
Times bestsellers, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in What Hath God Wrought, historian Daniel Walker
Howe illuminates the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American
War, an era when the United States expanded
to the Pacific and won control over the richest part of the North American continent. Continued below…
narrative portrays revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated the extension of the American
empire. Railroads, canals, newspapers, and the telegraph dramatically lowered travel times and spurred the spread of information.
These innovations prompted the emergence of mass political parties and stimulated America's economic development from
an overwhelmingly rural country to a diversified economy in which commerce and industry took their place alongside agriculture.
In his story, the author weaves together political and military events with social, economic, and cultural history. He examines
the rise of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic party, but contends that John Quincy Adams and other Whigs--advocates of public
education and economic integration, defenders of the rights of Indians, women, and African-Americans--were the true prophets
of America's future. He reveals the power
of religion to shape many aspects of American life during this period, including slavery and antislavery, women's rights and
other reform movements, politics, education, and literature. Howe's story of American expansion -- Manifest Destiny -- culminates
in the bitterly controversial but brilliantly executed war waged against Mexico
to gain California and Texas for the United States. By 1848, America had been transformed. What Hath God Wrought provides a monumental narrative
of this formative period in United States
Recommended Viewing: American Experience - Transcontinental Railroad (2003) (PBS) (120 minutes). Description: Go behind-the-scenes
of one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century: the building of a transcontinental railroad across the United
States. Completed in only six years by unscrupulous entrepreneurs, brilliant engineers, and
legions of dedicated workers, the Transcontinental Railroad left a horde of displaced, broken Native Americans in its wake.
See how the railroad helped shape the politics and culture of mid-19th century America.