Throughout most of history, land ownership was not even a distant dream for most ordinary working people. Then, when the founding fathers of the United States embarked upon their bold experiment in democracy, the stage was set for things to change. As the nation matured and prepared to step out of the era of slavery, momentum was building behind the idea of land ownership for settlers. In 1862 this movement culminated in the passage of the Homestead Act, which forever changed the face of the American landscape.
As early as 1796, the enactment of general land laws provided for the sale of public lands in tracts of 640 to 5,120 acres. This arrangement favored large-scale buyers over simple farmers, and even led to certain abuses when entrepreneurs purchased large amounts of land from the government at very low prices and then rented out smaller parcels at exorbitant rates. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the rise of immigration in the 1820s served to elevate the importance of the question of land distribution.
Read the entire article in the April 2010 issue