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Senate Roll Call on the Homestead Act, May 6, 1862

By May 1862, senators and representatives from 11 Southern states no longer attended the 37th Congress (1861–1863). The Homestead Act easily passed both houses, supported in the Senate by most Republicans and by its leading proponent, Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, a Southern Democrat who had remained loyal to the Union.

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

Senate Roll Call on the Homestead Act, May 6, 1862

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.