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Homestead Act: Primary Documents in American History

Enacted in 1862, the Homestead Act encouraged Western migration by offering settlers 160 acres of public land. This guide compiles Library of Congress digital materials, external websites, and a print bibliography.

Introduction

Signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862, the Homestead Act encouraged Western migration by providing settlers 160 acres of public land. In exchange, homesteaders paid a small filing fee and were required to complete five years of continuous residence before receiving ownership of the land. After six months of residency, homesteaders also had the option of purchasing the land from the government for $1.25 per acre. The Homestead Act led to the distribution of 80 million acres of public land by 1900.