Friday, July 9, 2010

An Act to Secure Homesteads to Actual Settlers on the Public Domain

What we commonly call the Homestead Act of 1862 was actually officially named “An Act to secure Homesteads to actual Settlers on the Public Domain.” Why was it necessary to say “to secure Homesteads for actual Settlers on the Public Domain?”

During the American Revolution the United States and the individual states became heavily in debt. Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, convinced Congress to assume the states debts [earlier Thomas Jefferson and others had convinced the states to give up their claim to lands west of the Appalachian Mountains thus creating a “Public Domain” that belonged the United States Government—overlooking the Indians claims to the land]. Hamilton’s plan to pay off the debt included the sale of public land at high prices and in large lots that would secure the maximum advantage for the public treasury.

Therefore, the nation’s first land law, the Land Ordinance of 1785, provided for the sale of lots of 640 acres or more at a minimum price of $1.00 per acre. This was much more land than any one farm family could farm at that time and no prospective settler could raise what was then an enormous sum of $640.00. As a result of this policy public land was purchased in large lots by land speculators who then sold it in smaller lots of 20 to 40 acres to actual settlers for more than the price it was purchased from the government.

Many claimed that land speculators were becoming wealthy selling “public” land and the law should be changed so “actual settlers” could purchase the land directly from the government. Overtime, new land laws were passed decreasing the amount of acreage that had to be purchased, but still in amounts larger than the average farm family could farm or afford. As increased machination came to farming allowing one farm family to farm more land and the amount of acres required to purchase public land decreased there came a point where some farmers could actually purchase land directly from the government. However, most land was still being sold by the government to land speculators who then who re-sold it to the actual settlers. So now you know why Congress in the Homestead Act of 1862 officially was trying to get the land directly into the hand of “actual settlers.”

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