Homestead Act (1862)

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  • On May 20, 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, and on January 1, 1863, the law went into effect. The law allowed any citizen or intended citizen who had not taken up arms against the United States to apply for a homestead, file for a deed to 160 acres (a quarter of a square mile) of federally surveyed land, and then improve the land.

    How to dispose of government lands had been a controversial issue since the American Revolution. Under the Articles of Confederation, land boundaries were undefined and overlapping. Boundaries were marked by metes and bounds, based on trees and streams and other unfixed landmarks. The Ordinance of 1785 created the 6-mile-square township but required purchase of a section (640 acres, or a square ...

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