In the early days of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln created the first formal farm and settlement grant in history by signing the Homestead Act of 1862. The law was a political response, aimed against various southern states who had previously, and continually, blocked legislation that would create new land-ownership opportunities for small farmers.

The Initial Bill

The first iteration of the Bill passed the House of Representatives; however, it was defeated by one vote in the Senate in 1858. The following year, the Bill passed both the House and the Senate, but President Buchanan vetoed it. At the time, the veto rationale was based on southern concerns about a possible westward population migration. Should a boom occur, new political power could be centralized from inside the "free states," and subsequently damage southern economic interests.

The Grant Opportunity

With the attack at Ft.Sumter, and the consequent opening of the war between the states, the federal government's ability to offer land to settlers became a reality. Any claimant who had never borne arms against the government of the United States was eligible. Acquiring a grant was a three-step, five-year process. First, the candidate had to complete requisite forms to formally claim the grant. Second, he had to travel to the land grant and immediately begin to improve the property. The size of the plot was based on 160 acres, and he had to improve this acreage by building a minimum 12-by-14 living structure, along with planting and producing various sustenance crops. Third, the claimant had to file for a final deed of title after five years, then ensure that the document was properly recorded in the region where the grant was located.

Between 1863 and 1976

In January of 1863, Daniel Freeman and 417 other claimants applied for the first group of grants. Between then and 1976, the initial Homestead Act produced over 1.6 million active free-land grants in the Western territories, covering a total land-mass of nearly 270 million acres (nearly 10 percent of the available land.) In 1976, the original Bill was repealed and was replaced by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, although the state of Alaska was granted an additional 10 year homestead extension, in order to spur population and economic growth in the northwestern-most state. The last claimant received his grant deed in 1988.

Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA)

This law was precursor legislation that paved for what is now referred to as the Bureau of Land Management ( BLM) The rationale was politically motivated (just as the original Homestead Act) and was established on a premise that the federal government could better manage dwindling natural resources. Unfortunately, this approach has not lent itself to effective preservation so much as bureaucratic control of resources that might be better handled by private ownership.

Homesteading Today

Several states offer homestead opportunities today including; Alaska, California, Oregon and Texas. Of these, the most effective is the state of Texas. Those who reside and own property in the state can file a homestead claim that protects ownership against forced foreclosure by a third-party debt-holder. In this case, the only legitimate claimants are the property's mortgage-holder ,and official taxing authorities. In other states, without homestead rights, a legal judgment based on something as simple as a mechanic's lien, can force an owner's home foreclosure to satisfy a debt.