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On this date, in 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act.
This legislation authorized unrestricted settlement on public lands to settlers, requiring only residence, cultivation, and some improvement to a tract of 160 acres. Any person who was head of a family or was age 21, a United States citizen, and owned less than 160 acres was eligible.
After living on the land and farming it for six months, the individual could buy the homestead at $1.25 an acre. But after five continuous years, he or she could apply for and receive a patent or title to the 160 acres for a filing fee of $15. This legislation (among others) permitted whites to freely acquire vast amounts of real estate, unavailable to Blacks and Native Americans (who had lost their land to the white Europeans) in America who were, at the time, not considered full citizens of the United States.
This law was part of a government-directed redistribution of land movement. It sheds light on the tremendous economic advantage given to future generations of white Americans as land is passed through inheritance.