Reconstruction Period Research Forum
The Homestead Act of 1862
Genealogy: Homestead Act of 1862 culminates more than 70 years of controversy
TERRE HAUTE — The Homestead Act of 1862 represented the culmination of more than 70 years of controversy in the United States about what to do with the vast public lands owned by the federal government. A similar land bill had passed through Congress in 1860, but was vetoed by President Buchanan.
But with the election of Abraham Lincoln, a Republican (the party that supported free land), and then the secession of the southern states from the Union (the South had opposed free land because slavery was an issue), the Homestead Act was assured to become law. President Lincoln signed it on May 20, 1862, and it went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863; the same day that the Emancipation Proclamation also became law. The first land entry application was filed by Daniel Freeman, a scout for the Union army, shortly after midnight, for a claim in Nebraska.
The Homestead Act allowed anyone age 21 or older to file for a quarter section (160 acres) of free land if they met the following conditions: They must actually live on the land for five years, they must build a house at least 12 by 14 feet in size, they must dig a well, plow and cultivate at least 10 acres, and fence in a certain amount. If they met these conditions, they would receive the title to the land free and clear in five years.