On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, a program that offered government-held land to small farmers.
The act, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, allowed potential farmers to file a claim for 160 acres. The public land became the claimant's at the end of five years, upon payment of a small fee. To file a claim, a settler needed to be the head of a household, 21 years or older, and had to have built a house, dug a well, plowed at least 10 acres, erected fences and lived on the land.
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