Transcribed from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar.

Homestead Laws.—An act of Congress "to appropriate the proceeds of the sales of the public lands, and to grant preëmption rights" (approved Sept. 4, 1841), may be considered as the basis of all subsequent legislation in regard to the matter of disposing of the public domain to actual settlers. It provided that anyone settling in person on the public lands to which the Indian title had been extinguished, and who improved the same and erected a dwelling thereon, should be authorized to enter any number of acres not exceeding 160, to include the residence of such claimant, upon paying to the United States the minimum price of such land. But this act contained many limitations and exceptions, and notwithstanding subsequent amendments seemed to be wholly unsatisfactory to those who earnestly desired to see Kansas developed and her population increased. At the Democratic territorial convention, held at Leavenworth, Nov. 25, 1858, the following resolution was passed:

"That in view of the many hardships to which settlers upon public lands are subjected, and the enhanced value which they confer upon the lands held by the government, we would most respectfully but urgently press upon Congress the justice and propriety of selling a quarter-section of land to every actual settler who shall remain and improve the land for three consecutive years, at the actual cost of survey and issuing a patent, and that all public lands in this territory be withdrawn from the market for three years, and left open to preëmptors."

On May 11, 1859, a Democratic convention at Tecumseh adopted a resolution declaring, "That the objects of the preëmption law would be better effected by giving a homestead to every bona fide settler and cultivator of the public land, without limit as to time, and that we respectively urge upon the president of the United States the propriety of postponing the public sales of the government lands in Kansas for at least twelve months."

At the convention at Osawatomie, May 18, 1859, at which time and place the Republican party in Kansas was organized, it was resolved, "That the passage of a liberal homestead bill, giving 160 acres of land to every citizen who will settle upon and improve it, would be a measure just in principle, sound in policy, and productive of the greatest good to the people of the nation; and that we regard the defeat of Mr. Grow's bill in the senate, by the Democratic party, as a direct blow at the laboring classes of the country, and as unworthy of the liberality of a great government."

Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania, as a member of the lower house of Congress, had been for years the champion of a homestead law, and such a bill was finally passed by Congress in 1860. It was vetoed, however, by President Buchanan. The bill was entitled "An act to secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain, and for other purposes;" and it gave to every citizen of the United States "who is the head of a family," and to every person of foreign birth residing in the country who has declared his intention to become a citizen, though he may not be the head of a family, that privilege of appropriating to himself 160 acres of government land, of settling and residing upon it for five years; and should his residence continue until the end of this period, he should then receive a patent on the payments of 25 cents per acre, or one-fifth of the established government price. During this period the land was to be protected from all the debts of the settler. The bill also contained a cession to the states of all the public lands within their respective limits "which have been subject to sale at private entry, and which remain unsold after the lapse of thirty years."

This provision embraced a donation to the states of 12,229,731 acres and as to the actual settler, while the bill did not make an absolute donation, the price was so small that it could scarcely be called a sale, being nominally 25 cents an acre, to be paid at the end of five years.

President Buchanan expressed a decided opinion in his veto message that Congress did not have the power, under the constitution, to give away the public lands, either to states or to individuals. He declared that the point was more clear in regard to the public lands in the states and territories within the Louisiana and Florida purchases, for these lands were paid for out of the public treasury with money raised by taxation; and as Congress had no power to appropriate the money with which these lands were purchased, he contended that it was clear the power over the lands was equally limited. He further objected to the bill upon the ground that it would prove unequal and unjust in its operation among the actual settlers themselves. Those who had already settled in the new countries had paid for their lands the government price of $1.25 per acre; and if the new settlers were given their land for a comparatively nominal price, he contended upon every principle of equality and justice, that the government would be obliged to refund out of the common treasury the difference which the old paid above the new settlers for their lands.

Another objection was that the bill would do great injustice to the old soldiers who had received land warrants for their services in fighting the battles of their country, as it would greatly reduce the market value of these warrants. The magnitude of this interest to be affected, he said, appeared in the fact that there were outstanding unsatisfied land warrants reaching back to the war of 1812, and even Revolutionary times, amounting, in round numbers, to 7,500,000 acres. It was further asserted by the president that the bill would prove unequal and unjust in its operation, because, from its nature, it was confined to one class of people, being exclusively conferred upon the cultivators of the soil. The numerous body of mechanics in our large cities could not, even by emigrating to the west, take advantage of the provisions of the bill without entering upon a new occupation, for which their habits of life had rendered them unfit. Another objection was that the bill was unjust to the old states of the Union in many respects. An individual in the older states would not pay its fair value for land when, by crossing the Mississippi, he could go upon the public lands and obtain a farm almost without money and without price. It was further asserted that the bill would open one vast field for speculation, and it was claimed that in the entry of graduated lands the experience of the land office justified that objection. The president further said that it was not, in his opinion, expedient to proclaim to all the nations of the earth that whoever should arrive in this country from a foreign shore and declare his intention to become a citizen should receive a farm of 160 acres, if he would only reside on it and cultivate it. Other objections cited by the president were that it would reduce the increase of public revenue from that source; that it would destroy the present admirable land system; and that it might introduce among us those pernicious social theories which have proved so disastrous in other countries.

An effort was made to pass the bill over the president's veto, but it failed in the senate. Renewed efforts were then made to enact such legislation, and on May 20, 1862, the "Homestead Bill" became a law with the signature of President Lincoln, and with the amendments since enacted it is now a part of the United States Revised Statutes (Sections 2289-2317). The policy of these laws is to give portions of the public lands to those who will settle, cultivate, and make permanent homes upon them. Any person who is the head of a family, or who is twenty-one years of age and is a citizen of the United States, or who has filed his declaration of intention to become such, may acquire a tract of unappropriated public land, not exceeding 160 acres, on condition of settlement, cultivation, and continuous occupancy as a home by him for the period of five years, and of the payment of certain moderate fees. It is expressly declared that no lands acquired under this statute shall in any event become liable to the satisfaction of any debt contracted prior to the issuing of the patent therefor by the government to the settler. This provision was inserted for the purpose of protecting debtors and of inducing them to settle upon the public domain. Its constitutionality was questioned, but was sustained by the courts. It would be difficult to point to any enactment of Congress more wise in conception, just in policy and beneficial in its results than this homestead statute and its amendments.

Under their provision it is safe to say that 100,000,000 acres of unoccupied public lands have been transferred by the United States to homestead settlers. During the fiscal year ending June 30, 1901, the commissioner of the general land office reported that "the original homestead entries aggregated 111,390, and embarked 15,455,057.46 acres for actual bona fide homes to American settlers."

The term "original entry" refers to the proceedings by which a person enters a tract of land as his homestead. Its important features are the filing of an affidavit, prescribed by statute, with the register of the land office in which he is about to make the entry, and the payment of a fee of $5 if his entry is for not more than 80 acres, or of $10 if it is for more than that amount. The "final entry" refers to the proceedings connected with the issue of a certificate of title or patent by the United States to the person making the original entry, or to his widow, heirs, or devisees. Ordinarily the patent does not issue until the expiration of five years from the date of the original entry, and then only upon furnishing the evidence required by statute of the actual occupancy of the land and its cultivation by the claimant during that period. Provision is made, however, for shortening this term by "commuting," that is, paying the minimum government price for the land. Upon such payment, the homesteader may obtain a patent at any time. It also provided that the term which a homestead settler served in the United States army, navy or marine corps, "during the Rebellion," or in the "Spanish war," or "in suppressing the insurrection in the Philippines," may be deducted from the five years required to perfect his title and to receive a patent for his original entry.

The effect of the passage of the homestead law upon the settlement of Kansas was marvelous. During the first year following its enactment there were 1,149 entries, with a total of 173,725.70 acres. In the eight years ending with 1870 there were 13,168 entries for 1,661,894.23 acres, and at the next decade, in 1880, there had been made 79,961 entries, calling for 10,762,353.69 acres of land. The mind of the reader will more readily grasp the immensity of these transactions when it is stated that in these eighteen years there was taken up in Kansas, by actual settlers under the homestead law, an area of land equal to more than three times the area of the State of Massachusetts. The homestead act is now the approved and preferred method of acquiring title to the public lands. It has stood the test of fifty years, and it stands as the concentrated wisdom of legislation for the disposition of the public domain. It has protected the government, it has filled the state with homes, and it has built up communities by giving ownership of the soil, in small tracts, to the occupants thereof.

Pages 867-870 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.