Why the Homestead Act of 1862 is important today

In 1860, a homestead bill providing Federal land grants to western settlers was passed by Congress only to be vetoed by President Buchanan. The Civil War removed the slavery issue because the Southern states had seceded from the Union. So finally, in 1862, the Homestead Act was passed and signed into law.

Southerners opposed the act on the grounds that it would result in antislavery people settling the territories

The Act had both positive and negative results.


“The government had never before offered the people free land, especially not in such large quantities either. This encouraged people to travel west, which allowed the nation and economy to grow. Farmers increased their knowledge and skill in agriculture, which eventually led to types of crops that otherwise would not have existed.

As a result of so much land being discovered and utilized, new resources became popular such as gold, silver, timber, and oil. People began building towns and starting businesses, allowing the economy to grow and thrive. As the towns grew, more jobs were created, which attracted more people to move out west.

The railroad industry grew immensely due to the expansion to the West. It reached all the way to the coast of California, which provided people with a fast and efficient form of transportation. Factories on the East coast were able to transport products quickly over to the West, and the West was able to send goods over to the East. Because of the new high demand for products, new technology was invented in order to support this demand. The entire nation was improving, all because the government decided to give out free land.


Expanding the nation further West came with many risks. Men and women were traveling out to land unknown, with little to no help along the way. One of the greatest concerns was of the Indians that lived out there, and how they would respond if they encountered homesteaders. The conditions out West were harsh as well, which lead to the death of many. Blizzards, intense winds, and tornados occurred often.

People were given land that was unfit to be farmed on, which made them suffer from hunger, especially during the colder months. Livestock suffered from hunger as well, as vegetation was hard
to find out West. A Montana homesteader John Heinen stated “..the business of raising wheat seemed to run into all kinds of difficulties…most of our neighbors have left us..I never could blame them for leaving. During bad years every family got more or less in debt.” These conditions were so severe, that many homesteaders had no choice but to abandon their land and make their way back to the East coast.

Before the Homestead Act, Indians had been pushed to the West due to the American government. When homesteaders began moving West, the Indians had to deal with strangers moving onto their land. As people began building their lives out West, the land the Indians once knew had become populated, and the animals were hunted. The Americans depleted the numbers of buffalo, a major food source for Indians, within a surprisingly short time.”

The Homestead Act was officially repealed by the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, though a ten-year extension allowed homesteading in Alaska until 1986. … In all, the government distributed over 270 million acres of land in 30 states under the Homestead Act.

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