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S. 416, The Homestead Act, June 20, 1860

Congress passed this Homestead Act over Southern opposition in 1860, only to have President James Buchanan veto it. Within a year the South seceded and Abraham Lincoln, who supported the legislation, was president. In 1862 Speaker of the House Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania and Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee advanced a new Homestead Act into law.

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

S. 416, The Homestead Act

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.