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H.R. 125, The Homestead Act, printed House bill with Senate changes, March 3, 1862

Congress passed the Homestead Act during the Civil War and included in the legislation a bounty for Union soldiers, who could deduct their period of military service from the five-year residency required for title to the land. Homesteads were granted only to those who had “never borne arms against the United States government.”

To secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain, and to provide a bounty for soldiers, in lieu of grants of the public lands.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

H.R. 125, The Homestead Act, printed House bill with Senate changes, March 3, 1862 To secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain, and to provide a bounty for soldiers, in lieu of grants of the public lands.

The First Homesteaders

The Homestead Act of 1862 made 160 acres available to any head of household who filed a claim, lived five years on the land, and paid a fee. Homesteaders included citizens, immigrants seeking naturalization, women, men, African Americans, and whites. American Indians, who were not recognized as U.S. citizens, were excluded. Daniel Freeman, a Civil War scout in Nebraska, may have been the first to file a land claim when the Homestead Act became effective on January 1, 1863.