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Posts Tagged ‘early government welfare’

The Homestead Act of 1862

When the Southern states seceded and their Representatives and Senators abandoned Washington D. C. in 1861 the Republicans and other former Free-Soil advocates passed the Homestead Act of 1862. The purpose of this law was to expand the homesteading requirements of the Pre-emption Act of 1841 making it easier for loyal citizens of the Union to claim land and thereby expand the concept of the “yeoman farmer”. Andrew Johnson, George Henry Evans and Horace Greeley were the primary advocates and leaders of this effort.

The law provided that any citizen of the Union could claim 160 acres of public land if willing to settle on the property and farm the land for at least five years. A three-step process was required; 1) file an application giving the boundaries of the land and pay the required fee, 2) improve the land and 3) file for a deed of title after five years. The applicant had to be a citizen of the U. S. or have filed an intent to become a citizen, be at least twenty-one years of age or the head of a household. This last stipulation enabled single women and widows to make application. The only other requirement was that the applicant had never taken up arms against the government of the U. S. After the fourteenth amendment freed all slaves, former slaves could also file a claim.

In 1866 the Southern Homestead Act was passed by Congress and signed into law. This law made it possible for poor tenant farmers and sharecroppers living in the Southern states during Reconstruction to become landowners. It proved to be not as successful as anticipated because, despite low fees and other costs associated with taking up a claim, such as the purchase of tools, transportation to the claim, seed, livestock, and other necessities, most potential applicants were unable to move from where they were mired in abject poverty.

Initially immigrants, farmers with no land of their own, single women and all citizens or persons who had filed a declaration of their intention to become a citizen qualified for “free” land. With time the requirements changed. Slaves became qualified after the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868. South Asians and East Asians born in the U. S. were qualified after the Supreme Court ruled on the United States vs. Wong Kim Ark lawsuit in 1898. However, by 1998 almost all high-quality farm lands were claimed. For immigrants entering the country legally during the 1890’s most had to file a declaration of their intent to become a citizen to be admitted. During this time the bulk of the immigrants were from Europe. Immigrants from Asia were largely excluded. Immigrants from Africa were permitted but very few applied.

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The research into land acquisition is for an upcoming book.

The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850:

America’s early wealth derived from land, huge amounts of it. The land was, of course, usurped from indigenous peoples who, according to the accepted dogma of the day, could not possibly utilize all the lands they claimed. This attitude was made more palatable because of the decimation of the indigenous population by diseases they had no acquired immunity to, genocide, and serial relocation to remove them from contact with the ever-increasing influx of immigrants who had little hope of owning their own land in the countries from which they came.

Most citizens living in the Northern states believed the future of America depended upon individual farmers who owned and operated their own farms. Southerners, in general, especially the owners of slaves, wanted to be able to purchase large tracts of land and use slave labor. The concept of the “yeoman farmer” derived from Jeffersonian concepts, powerful influences in American politics in the 1840’s and 1850’s. These ideas gave rise to the Free-Soil Party from 1848-1852 and to the “New” Republican party after 1854. Southern Democrats fought against, and managed to prevent the passage, of proposed homestead bills. Their fear was that free land would attract both European immigrants and poor Southern whites to the west. The balance of power would then shift and force the end of slavery.

The availability of huge tracts of apparently empty land provided the government with the ability to populate those lands, collect taxes, and grow the economy. People in financial trouble, or just looking to improve their lifestyle could obtain free, or at minimal cost, large portions of land from which, if they were willing to struggle and work hard, they could support a family and gain the numerous benefits of being property owners.

The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 enabled settlers to claim lands (320 or 640 acres) in the Oregon Territory consisting of the current states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of Wyoming. During that time period one man, with the help of his family, could realistically plow and put into crop production between 40 and 80 acres. The Oregon Territory land was granted free of charge from 1850-1854 after which it could be purchased from the government for $1.25 per acre until the law expired in 1855.

The Donation Land Claim Act was proceeded by the Pre-emption Act of 1846:

This law was designed to “…appropriate the proceeds of sales of public lands… and to grant “pre-emptive rights” to squatters already occupying federal lands. The law was most used by early settlers in the Kansas and Nebraska territories. The law provided that squatters who were actually living on or had made improvements to lands owned by the federal government could purchase up to 160 acres for no less than $1.25 per acre, at a public auction. If a particular tract of land was not claimed it was auctioned to the highest bidder. The squatter had to be the head of a household, a citizen of the U.S. or an immigrant intending to become naturalized, and a resident on the claimed land for a minimum of 14 months. As usual enterprising people devised a multitude of strategies to circumvent the restrictions, not excepting perjury, to obtain land or otherwise game the system for speculation.

The Pre-emption Act also provided that Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Michigan, or any state admitted to the Union after the Act became law, to be paid 10% of the proceeds from the sale of these public lands. To preserve ownership of the claimed land, and gain title to it, the claimant had to live on it, or consistently work to improve it, for a minimum of 5 years. If the land remained idle for six months the government could reclaim it. This was rare. The Act helped establish the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

 

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