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The Homestead Act, May 20, 1862

Congress passed and President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862. The act encouraged western expansion by awarding settlers 160 acres of land in exchange for a small filing fee. The act required settlers to be or to become U.S. citizens, to have never borne arms against the United States, and to reside on the land continuously for five years in order to receive the land title. Through 1986, when the last claim was made in Alaska, the act distributed an astonishing 270 million acres of land.

General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration

The Homestead Act, May 20, 1862 The Homestead Act, May 20, 1862

Legislative Highlights

The U.S. Constitution states that “The Congress shall have Power…To make all Laws.” The original laws enacted by Congress are preserved at the National Archives. This page highlights some of the most historically significant laws Congress has passed throughout the nation’s history.