Provisions of the Homestead Act


The Homestead Act of 1862 offered unimproved government land in various territories to settlers who were willing to farm and improve their grants. Originally, the bill was passed by Congress and the Senate in 1859; however, then President Buchanan vetoed the law on the basis of political grounds. After the succession of 11 southern states, thereby causing the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law.


  • Essentially anyone who had never carried arms against the United States of America could apply for a land grant. The process to do so was based on three steps: apply formally by completing a grant affidavit, occupy the land and begin improving the grant acreage, continue to work the grant for five years then petition for a final grant of deed.

Rights Granted

  • Once a grant was approved, the following rights passed to the petitioner. The individual could physically move to the assigned plot and register a grant affidavit at the local land office. The cost to the individual was $10 and was to be paid in Federal script, or "hard money."

Amount of Land

  • The size of the acreage was one quarter section. In the day, this encompassed 160 acres at a price of $1.25 per acre or, in more desirable locations, 80 acres at a price of $2.25 per acre. The latter purchase agreement engendered one of many anecdotal selling offers to come out of the Civil War, when "80 acres and a mule" became one of earliest "good deals" in history.

Land Can Not Be Sold

  • During the period between the initial land grant and final issuance of the certificate of patient, granted land could not be seized or encumbered by any third-party on the basis of a personal or commercial debt.

Five Year Requirement

  • If the petitioner had concurrently operated and cultivated the land throughout the provisional five year grant period, he could file for what was then referred to as a "certificate of patient"; in effect a final deed. The process required an additional affidavit attesting to all of the codicils of the initial grant, and the document had to be witnessed and signed by two impartial parties, plus the payment of an additional fee.


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