Norwegian immigrants in 1898 on their land claimed under the Homestead Act
What Was the Homestead Act of 1862?
The Homestead Act of 1862 was federal legislation that allowed settlers to claim up to 160 acres of land in the public domain at little cost and with few requirements. It went into effect in the United States on January 1, 1863. The Homestead Act was a significant piece of legislation in U.S. history, as it hastened the development and settlement of the West.
Why Was the Homestead Act Passed?
Since about the 1830s, there had been a concerted effort by western farmers, reformers, and others to push through federal legislation opening up land in the public domain to those willing to settle and work it. However, opposition by other groups, notably Southern slaveholders, prevented the passage of any homesteading bills until the secession of the South at the onset of the Civil War. After the South seceded (eliminating the main opposition), the law was passed by Congress and then signed by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862.
What Were the Requirements to Claim Land?
The Homestead Act of 1862 granted up to 160 acres of public domain land to any U.S. citizen—or potential citizen—who was at least 21 years old or head of a household (including women, free African Americans, and people of other races). All they had to do was pay a small filing fee and live and work on the land for five years. After 6 months, they were eligible to obtain the land early if they paid $1.25 an acre.
What Was the Impact of the Homestead Act?
By the end of the Civil War, 15,000 land claims had been made, with 600,000 claims made by 1900. Not all the land was claimed by homesteaders, however—large amounts were taken by land speculators or granted to railroads and special interests.
Later amendments made changes to the act (including allowing people to claim larger tracts of land), but by the mid-1930s, land claims had dropped dramatically. Then in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt removed public land from use in 12 western states, limiting the land available under the Homestead Act.
By the time the Homestead Act was repealed in 1976 (with an exception for Alaska, where it lasted until 1986), 270 million acres of land—about 10 percent of the country—had been claimed under the act.
Learn more about the Homestead Act of 1862 through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about the Homestead Act of 1862
Congress passes the Homestead Act of 1862; Article gives general details about the requirements Thu, May 22, 1862 – Page 2 · The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Chittenden, Vermont, United States of America) · Newspapers.com"Land for the Landless": Letter from the Speaker of the House, who supported the Homestead Act Fri, May 23, 1862 – 3 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America) · Newspapers.comPro Homestead Act editorial; Also gives history of the passing of the bill Wed, May 28, 1862 – 2 · St. Joseph Saturday Herald (Saint Joseph, Michigan, United States of America) · Newspapers.comNewspaper prints the full text of the Homestead Act of 1862 Sat, May 31, 1862 – 2 · Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, United States of America) · Newspapers.comEditorial argues Homestead Act will encourage immigration and also help prevent spread of slavery Mon, Jun 2, 1862 – 6 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America) · Newspapers.comNewspaper encourages entire communities to take advantage of the Homestead Act and move together Fri, Jun 6, 1862 – Page 4 · New-York Tribune (New York, New York, New York, United States of America) · Newspapers.comHundreds of letters arrive in Nebraska asking about the best land available under Homestead Act Thu, Jun 19, 1862 – Page 2 · Nebraska Advertiser (Brownville, Nemaha, Nebraska, United States of America) · Newspapers.comNewspaper explains some of the confusion about the Homestead Act Thu, Jun 26, 1862 – Page 2 · The Summit County Beacon (Akron, Summit, Ohio) · Newspapers.comEffect building of the Northern Pacific Railway will have on land available under the Homestead Act Fri, Jun 27, 1862 – 4 · The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America) · Newspapers.comKansas newspaper encourages people to move to the region under the Homestead Act Thu, Jul 3, 1862 – Page 3 · The Smoky Hill and Republican Union (Junction City, Geary, Kansas) · Newspapers.comNewspaper says that there is no land available for settlement under the Homestead Act in Illinois Tue, Jul 15, 1862 – 2 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America) · Newspapers.comCircular to registers in Washington outlining the process of applying for land under Homestead Act Sat, Jan 3, 1863 – 1 · The Washington Standard (Olympia, Washington, United States of America) · Newspapers.comEarly statistics about how much land has been claimed in Kansas under Homestead Act as of May 1863 Sat, May 9, 1863 – Page 2 · The Smoky Hill and Republican Union (Junction City, Geary, Kansas) · Newspapers.comPeople are moving to Michigan to claim land under the Homestead Act, May 1863 Wed, May 13, 1863 – Page 2 · The Grand Haven News (Grand Haven, Ottawa, Michigan, United States of America) · Newspapers.comIowans give aid to struggling homesteaders in 1873; Letter from homesteader describing hardships Tue, Nov 25, 1873 – Page 4 · The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Polk, Iowa, United States of America) · Newspapers.comNewspaper editorial about some homesteaders in Kansas losing their land to the railroad in 1873 Fri, Dec 26, 1873 – 2 · The Border Sentinel (Mound City, Kansas, United States of America) · Newspapers.comGrasshoppers destroy homesteaders' crops in Nebraska in 1874 Sat, Aug 8, 1874 – Page 2 · The Red Cloud Chief (Red Cloud, Webster, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com20 questions homesteaders must answer as proof of settlement, 1878 Thu, Sep 19, 1878 – 5 · Edwards County Leader (Kinsley, Kansas, United States of America) · Newspapers.comDescription of Kansas & Nebraska homesteader housing, including dugouts and sod houses, in 1888 Fri, Sep 28, 1888 – Page 6 · The Daily Commonwealth (Topeka, Shawnee, Kansas, United States of America) · Newspapers.comLand in North Dakota opens under new 320-acre Homestead Act in 1913 Thu, Sep 4, 1913 – 6 · Jamestown Weekly Alert (Jamestown, Stutsman, North Dakota, United States of America) · Newspapers.comPresident Franklin D. Roosevelt removes land from public domain in 1935 Sun, Feb 10, 1935 – Page 8 · Monroe Morning World (Monroe, Ouachita, Louisiana) · Newspapers.comPassage of Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 repeals the Homestead Act of 1862 Fri, Nov 26, 1976 – 4 · The Capital Journal (Salem, Oregon, United States of America) · Newspapers.comHomestead Act ends for good when it expires in Alaska in 1986 Wed, Mar 12, 1986 – 18 · The Herald-Palladium (Saint Joseph, Michigan, United States of America) · Newspapers.comPhoto of first homesteader, Daniel Freeman, by his home in Beatrice, Nebraska Sat, Aug 6, 2005 – B2 · The Herald-Palladium (Saint Joseph, Michigan, United States of America) · Newspapers.com