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History

Study Notes

The Homestead Act

Level:
GCSE
Board:
Edexcel

Initially the US government had sold land in the west at $1 an acre, but this was far too expensive for ordinary families to buy. The Homestead Act allowed families to claim 160-acres of land for just $10, provided it was used to set up a family home and for farming. These 160-acre plots were known as homesteads. Buying a homestead was known as ‘filing a claim’. 

Initially the US government had sold land in the west at $1 an acre, but this was far too expensive for ordinary families to buy. The Homestead Act allowed families to claim 160-acres of land for just $10, provided it was used to set up a family home and for farming. These 160-acre plots were known as homesteads. Buying a homestead was known as ‘filing a claim’.

 

The aim of the US government was to encourage migrants to settle permanently in the west. The government wanted to avoid the land being owned by just a few rich landowners, as more tax could be raised through thousands of small family owned farms. In order to achieve this aim, the government allowed anybody over 21 to file a claim, including ex-saves and women (though not American Indians). Anyone who had filed a claim had to work on the land themselves, this was to try prevent people filing lots of claims and paying employees to work the land. If you had lived on your file for five years, and managed to plant five acres of crops, you were able to buy your land outright for $30. This was known as proving up.

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