Under the Pre-emption Act 1841, settlers could claim the right to purchase up to 160 acres of public land at an established minimum price per acre, usually $1.25. A settler complying with the terms of this act could pre-empt any subsequent claims. The act remained in effect until 1891.
The Free Soil Party declared in favor of free land to actual settlers in 1848 contending that "the public lands of the United States belong to the people and should not be sold to individuals nor granted to corporations, but should be held as a sacred trust for the benefit of the people, and should be granted in limited quantities, free of cost, to landless settlers."
The Homestead Law was a series of enactments beginning with the Act of May 20, 1862 which provided for the disposition of the public lands to settlers without requiring any compensation except the acts of residence, cultivation and improvement. A person who was the head of a family or who had reached the age of 21 and was a citizen of the United States or had declared his intention to become a citizen and was not the owner of more than 160 acres of land in the United States, could apply for up to 160 acres and upon residing thereon, cultivating and improving it for five years in compliance with the law, obtain a patent. Under the Homestead Law, the applicant was limited to 160 acres and had to reside upon the land and make it his home to the exclusion of any other residence for five years. At the end of this time he had to make final proof of his residence and of the cultivation and improvement of the land. If this was satisfactory he received a patent from the United States which conveyed full title and unrestricted ownership. If a homesteader died without filing an application for entry or if having entered he had not submitted final proof, his rights passed to his widow or, if there be none, to his heirs. Only one homestead entry was allowed but where the original homestead entry was less than 160 acres an additional entry bringing the total up to 160 acres was allowed. Beginning with an Act on Feb 19, 1909 several laws were passed to provide for larger homesteads, up to 320 acres, in states where 160 acres was not thought adequate to support a family, North Dakota among them.
Land scrip and land warrants formed a type of land-office money acceptable for entry on public lands. Between 1820 and 1890 there were forty-nine statutes that authorized issues of script. They were used primarily to reward veterans, to give allotments to mixed blood Indians, to make possible exchanges of private land for public land, to indemnify people who had lost valid claims through errors of the General Land Office and to subsidize agricultural colleges. A major scrip issue was the Soldiers' and Sailor's Additional Homestead Act of 1872, which allowed veterans of the Civil War to count their military service toward the five years required to gain titles to a free homestead and authorized those who had homesteaded on less than 160 acres to make an additional entry to bring their total acreage to 160 acres. Assignable scrip was issued for the additional acreage allowed. Other measures were enacted to indemnify holders of public-land claims that were confirmed long after the land had been taken up and patented to settlers; the claimants were provided with scrip equivalent to the loss they had sustained.
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