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.

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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?

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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


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