Free land! May 20, 1862, the Homestead Act

April 30, 2013

A family off to find and settle their homestead, 1886. Photo from the National Archives

A family off to find and settle their homestead, 1886. Photo from the National Archives

History and demographics of the United States were forever changed when the Homestead Act became law early in the administration of President Abraham Lincoln, on May 20, 1862.

The bill that became the Homestead Act, H.R. 125, in the 37th Congress, 1862. Image from the U.S. National Archives

The bill that became the Homestead Act, H.R. 125, in the 37th Congress, 1862. Image from the U.S. National Archives

Here’s the history from the National Archives:

The notion that the United States government should give free land titles to settlers to encourage westward expansion became popular in the 1850s. During that time the U.S. House of Representatives passed numerous homestead bills but southern opposition in the Senate prevented enactment. In 1860, during the 36th Congress, the Senate narrowly passed a homestead act but President James Buchanan vetoed it and the Senate failed its override attempt.

When the 37th Congress convened for its brief summer session in 1861, now without members from seceded states, it was preoccupied with Civil War-related legislation. The House took up briefly the homestead issue in December but postponed further consideration of it until the following February. The House finally passed the Homestead Act on February 28, 1862 by the large margin of 107 to 16. The act worked its way through the Senate until May 6, 1862 when it passed easily by a vote of 33 to 7. After a few minor changes in conference committee—which both houses agreed to without controversy—Congress sent the final legislation to President Abraham Lincoln who signed the act into law on May 20, 1862.

The Homestead Act encouraged western migration by providing settlers with 160 acres of land in exchange for a nominal filing fee. Among its provisions was a five-year requirement of continuous residence before receiving the title to the land and the settlers had to be, or in the process of becoming, U.S. citizens. Through 1986, when the last claim was made in Alaska, the Homestead Act distributed 270 million acres of land in the United States making it arguably one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation in American history.


April 30 – Fly flags for Louisiana Statehood

April 30, 2013

U.S. and Louisiana flags both should fly in Louisiana today.  Photo by Jack and Joann

U.S. and Louisiana flags both should fly in Louisiana today. Photo by Jack and Joann

Flags out in Louisiana today?  Under the U.S. Flag code, Louisianans (and anyone else so inclined) should fly their U.S. flags on April 30 in honor of Louisiana’s statehood, achieved on April 30, 1812.

On April 30, 1812, the United States admitted Louisiana as the 18th state into the Union. Louisiana was the first state to have a majority Catholic French- and Spanish-speaking population, reflecting its origins as a colony under France from 1699-1763 and Spain from 1763-1803. Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Louisiana’s road to statehood was not all smooth. Federal law required citizens of a newly admitted territory to apply to congress for statehood, and the admission of the Orleans Territory as the 18th state followed years of lobbying efforts by prominent citizens—both American and Creole (French-speaking Catholics). Men such as French-born congressman Julien Poydras and American attorney Edward Livingston sought the greater political rights that statehood bestowed and convinced Territorial Governor William C.C. Claiborne that the Orleans Territory qualified for statehood. Finally in 1811, Democratic President James Madison signed the bill allowing the people of Louisiana to form a state constitution. Following the state constitutional convention in New Orleans where 43 American and Creole leaders convened, on April 14, 1812, President Madison signed the bill approving statehood. The bill designated April 30, 1812, as the day of formal admission.

Seriously, where would the U.S. be without the stories of Huey Long, and without Tobasco Sauce?


Map of the states and territories of the Unite...

Map of the states and territories of the United States as it was from April 1812 to May 1812. On April 30 1812, most of Orleans Territory was admitted as the state of Louisiana. On May 12 1812, the federal government assigned its annexed land of West Florida to Mississippi Territory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the U.S. National Archives: Joint Credentials for the State of Louisiana's First Senators, September 3, 1812

From the U.S. National Archives: Joint Credentials for the State of Louisiana’s First Senators, September 3, 1812 On September 3, 1812 Louisiana’s legislature elected Jean Noel Destréhan and Allan Bowie Magruder to serve as the new state’s first U.S. Senators. Destréhan resigned before being seated and was replaced by Thomas Posey. RG 46, Records of the U.S. Senate

Fly your flag April 28: Maryland statehood day

April 28, 2013

U.S. and Maryland flags flown together. Photo from the Maryland Secretary of State's office.

U.S. and Maryland flags flown together. Photo from the Maryland Secretary of State’s office.

Maryland’s convention to ratify the Constitution voted approval on April 28, 1788, the sixth of the former British colonies to ratify.

April 28 is considered Maryland’s statehood date.  According to the suggestions for proper times to fly the U.S. flag, Marylanders should fly their flags on April 28.

It’s only my opinion, but I think there is no grander display of a state and U.S. flag than with Maryland’s.  Maryland’s flag is a unique design in the state flags, and it features colors not common to state flags.  Our displays of both flags at our Maryland home often drew comments from passers-by (we lived on the street leading to the town’s Metro stop, so there was a lot of foot traffic.

Maryland’s flag features the two family crests of George Calvert, the First Lord Baltimore.  In Maryland law it’s described:

The Maryland flag is divided into four quarters. The first and fourth quarters consist of six vertical bars alternately yellow (representing gold) and black with a diagonal band on which the colors are reversed. The yellow and black quarters represent the family arms of the first proprietor of Maryland, George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore. The second and third quarters consist of a quartered field of red and white (representing silver) bearing a Greek cross with arms terminating in trefoils. The colors in the second and third quarters alternate, with red on the white ground and white on the red. The red and white quarters display the arms of Lord Baltimore’s maternal family, the Crosslands.

The flag was officially adopted only in 1904.  Maryland also has a detailed, but not too lengthy set of instructions on proper display and other care of the state flag.

Historic 15-star/15-stripe U.S. flag, and Maryland flag, in Baltimore

From the W&M Blogs: “American and Maryland flags flying high over downtown Baltimore. Just why does the American flag have 15 stars and stripes? Think about Baltimore’s Fort McHenry and Francis Scott Key.”

Baltimore Harbor is home to Fort McHenry, the fort whose siege inspired Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key to write a poem about the U.S. flag, which became our national anthem.  Partly due to this history, U.S. flags in Maryland often are the historic, 15-star/15-stripe flag that inspired Key.


Maryland flag on the cover of a Justice League of America comic book.

Maryland flag on the cover of a Justice League of America comic book.


A poem: “After I learned my flight was delayed four hours” (Gate A4)

April 27, 2013

Albuquerque International Airport, at Gate A4

Albuquerque International Airport, at Gate A4

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her—Southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

Banner inside Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) showing the city's sister cities.  Wikipedia image

Banner inside Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) showing the city’s sister cities. Wikipedia image

The title of this poem is “Gate A4.”

Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952), “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal.” I think this poem may be making the rounds, this week, but that’s as it should be. (via

awelltraveledwoman) (Source: oliviacirce, via awelltraveledwoman)

Certainly this is copyrighted, and you’ll honor that by making sure that the name of the poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, remains attached to it.

It’s National Poetry Month.

Analyzing this piece, I’m not sure where the greater poetry is, whether the meter, or the story.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Kelly Sennholz, who Tweeted links.

Is this viral yet? (More, and resources):

What do you see when the Southwest Airlines craft finally takes off?

YouTube caption:

Published on Sep 25, 2013

A Southwest Airlines 737-700 takes off from Albuquerque, New Mexico (ABQ) for a flight to Chicago Midway (MDW) in September 2013.

Southwest's gates at Albuquerque International Airport

Southwest’s gates at Albuquerque International Airport, on Concourse A

Honk if you don’t get the joke

April 26, 2013

In Texas, Christian-themed bumper stickers outnumber all others by a huge number.

Some of the non-Christians have a better sense of humor, or at least a willingness to pun:

Ankh if you love Isis

“Ankh if you love Isis” bumper sticker in Texas. Photo by Ed Darrell

Of course, in order to get the homophone pun, and the joke, one needs to know a bit about world history and ancient Egyptian religions.  One faces the danger that people in the parking lot at the local Sam’s Club won’t know world history, won’t get the joke, and may take offense.

It’s a form of a test, to see who paid attention in world history and has a sense of humor, and who didn’t pay attention in world history.

I knew a librarian once, a good Christian woman, who hated those “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper stickers.  She said that she once sat on a crowded freeway and counted more than 25 of the things on cars that passed.  No one honked, however, and she feared that meant  people didn’t love Jesus.  Unintentional blasphemy by silence — only in Texas.

Honk if you don’t get the joke.  We’ll find a remedial world history class for you.


Some Texans were unhappy to learn “Don’t Mess With Texas” was an anti-litter slogan; some Texans take their bumper stickers way too seriously. Texas Public Radio image

Resources for World Malaria Day 2013

April 25, 2013

Not a word about condemning Rachel Carson.  No plea to use DDT to try to poison Africa or Asia to health.  That’s a great start.


Mother and son under a protective bednet, the most efficient method to prevent malaria.  Columbia University MVSim image

Mother and son under a protective bednet, the most efficient method to prevent malaria. Columbia University MVSim image

April 25 is World Malaria Day — right, Bill?

April 24, 2013

He’s absolutely right.

English: World Malaria Day Button (english)

English: World Malaria Day Button (english) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are you doing to fight malaria today?


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