- The passage of the Homestead Act was among the top priorities of President Lincoln.
- The Homestead Act was among the major contributors to the westward expansion
- The Homestead Act, though positive, continued to pit Native American Indians against settlers in the west
Terms for Title under the Act
There were several events in history that concretized the westward expansion. Key among them was the enactment of the Homestead Act by President Lincoln. The Homestead Act was a program established in 1862 intended to provide public land to smallholder farmers at low cost. Through the Act, any person could apply for 160 acres of land provided that the applicant was the head of the household and above the age of 2I, was going to settle on the land for a period of not less than five years and availed a filing fee of $ 18. After five years, the settlers the title would be permanently reverted to the settlers and if one aspired to hold a permanent title before the expiry of 5 years, they were required to pay $ 1.25 per acre after six month of occupation.
The Politics around the Act
The Act was first proposed in the 1850s but the Congressmen representing the slaveholding states in the Southern region, feared that the system would create an alternative of commercial agriculture different to the slave system. Therefore in 1858, the bill was defeated by one vote in the Senate, passed by both houses in 1859 but vetoed by President James Buchanan. President Lincoln made the bill among his priority agendas and with the secession of the Southern States, the bill passed through and was assented by the President by the end of the Civil War, 15,000 people, called homesteaders, had claimed land under the Act.
Majority of the homesteaders were farmers from the east of America or Europe and there was 600,000 claims of 80 million acres of public land by 1900.
Impact of the Homestead Act
The Act further opened up the western region to settlement and development. There was a rapid increase in agricultural knowledge, further discovery and exploitation of natural resources such as silver, gold, timber and oil. There was employment creation, development of towns and economic growth that in turn attracted more people into the region.
At the time the Act was receiving Presidential assent, the transcontinental railroad had received Congressional approval. The railroad also enabled further settlements to the west by easing transportation of people and goods to the region replacing caravans, wagons and other forms of long-distance travelling options.
However, the negative effects of the Act were that it continued to pit Native American Indians against settlers in the region, intensifying wars between the two factions. Further, not all the land in the west, with the technology available at the time, was conducive for farming resulting to hunger and the abandonment of land by many of the Homesteaders in the early years of the Act.