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President James Buchanan’s veto of S. 416, the Homestead Act, June 22, 1860

In vetoing Congress’s homestead legislation of 1860, President James Buchanan presented several arguments, including that Congress lacked the constitutional authority to give away public lands. Buchanan, a Democrat, supported Southern interests who feared small farmers would outnumber slaveholders and tip the nation’s political balance against the South.

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

President James Buchanan’s veto of S. 416, the Homestead Act, June 22, 1860

The Homestead Act

With the Homestead Act of 1862, Congress altered the way individuals could acquire federal land. Instead of selling the property, a policy that favored the wealthy, the federal government awarded a 160-acre plot to any citizen or intended citizen who claimed it by dwelling on it for a designated period and paying a fee. Congress had considered numerous homestead bills since the 1840s, but Southern senators routinely blocked them, wanting the land reserved for slaveholders. After 11 Southern states seceded in 1860–1861, the Homestead Act passed.