The Homestead Act of 1862
"The Homestead Act set forth by the Thirty-Seventh
Congress, Session II, Chapter 75 of 1862:
"May 20, 1862 Chapter LXXV - An act to Secure Homesteads
to actual Settlers on the Public Domain.
"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
That any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen
of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such, as required by the naturalization
laws of the United States, and who has never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort
to its enemies, shall, from and after the first of January, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, be entitled to enter
one quarter section or a less quantity of unappropriated public lands, upon which said person may have filed a
preemption claim, or which may, at the time the application is made, be subject to preemption at one dollar and
twenty-five cents, or less, per acre; or eighty acres or less of such unappropriated lands, at two dollars and
fifty cents per acre, to be located in a body, in conformity to the legal subdivisions of the public lands, and
after the same shall have been surveyed: Provided, That any person owning and residing on land may, under the provisions
of this act, enter other land lying contiguous to his or her said land, which shall not, with the land so already
owned and occupied, exceed in the aggregate, one hundred and sixty acres.
"Section 2. And be it further enacted, That the person applying for the benefit of this act shall, upon application
to the register of the land office in which he or she is about to make such entry, make affidavit before the said
register or receiver that he or she is the head of a family, or is twenty-one years or more of age, or shall have
performed service in the army or navy of the United States, and that he has never borne arms against the Government
of the United States or given aid and comfort to its enemies, and that such application is made for his or her
exclusive use and benefit, and that said entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation, and
not either directly or indirectly for the use or benefit of any other person or persons whomsoever; and upon filing
the said affidavit with the register or receiver, and on payment of ten dollars, he or she shall thereupon be permitted
to enter the quantity of land specified: Provided, however, That no certificate shall be given or patent issued
therefor until the expiration of five years from the date of such entry; and if, at the expiration of such time,
or at any time within two years thereafter, the person making such entry; or, if he be dead, his widow; or in case
of her death, his heirs or devisee; or in the case of a widow making such entry, her heirs or devisee, in the case
of her death; shall prove by two credible witnesses that he, she, or they have resided upon or cultivated the same
for the term of five years immediately succeeding the time of filing the affidavit aforesaid, and shall make affidavit
that no part of said land has been alienated, and he has borne true allegiance to the Government of the United
States; then, in such case, he, she, or they, if at that time a citizen of the United States, shall be entitled
to a patent, as in other cases provided for by law: And, provided, further, That in case of the death of both father
and mother, leaving an infant child, or children, under twenty-one years of age, the right and fee shall enure
to the benefit of said infant child or children; and the executor, administrator, or guardian may, at any time
within two years after the death of the surviving parent, and in accordance with the laws of the State in which
such children for the time being have their domicil, sell said land for the benefit of said infants, but for no
other purpose; and the purchaser shall acquire the absolute title by the purchase, and be entitled to a patent
from the United States, on payment of the office fees and sum of money herein specified.
"Section 3. And be it further enacted, That the register of the land office shall note all such applications
on the tract books and plats of his office, and keep a register of all such entries, and make return thereof to
the General Land Office, together with the proof upon which they have been founded.
"Section 4. And be it further enacted, That no lands acquired under the provisions of this act shall in any
event become liable to the satisfaction of any debt or debts contracted prior to the issuing of the patent therefor.
"Section 5. And be it further enacted, That if, at any time after the filing of the affidavit, as required
in the second section of this act, and before the expiration of the five years aforesaid, it shall be proven, after
due notice to the settler, to the satisfaction of the register of the land office, that the person having filed
such affidavit shall have actually changed his or her residence, or abandoned the said land for more than six months
at any time, then and in that event the land so entered shall revert to the government.
"Section 6. And be it further enacted, That no individual shall be permitted to acquire title to more than
one quarter section under the provisions of this act; and that the Commissioner of the General Land Office is hereby
required to prepare and issue such rules and regulations, consistent with this act, as shall be necessary and proper
to carry its provisions into effect; and that the registers and receivers of the several land offices shall be
entitled to receive the same compensation for any lands entered under the provisions of this act that they are
now entitled to receive when the same quantity of land is entered with money, one half to be paid by the person
making the application at the time of so doing, and the other half on the issue of the certificate by the person
to whom it may be issued; but this shall not be construed to enlarge the maximum of compensation now prescribed
by law for any register or receiver: Provided, That nothing contained in this act shall be so construed as to impair
or interfere in any manner whatever with existing preemption rights: And provided, further, That all persons who
may have filed their applications for a preemption right prior to the passage of this act, shall be entitled to
all privileges of this act: Provided, further, That no person who has served or may hereafter serve, for period
of not less than fourteen days in the army or navy of the United States, either regular or volunteer, under the
laws thereof, during the existence of an actual war, domestic or foreign, shall be deprived of the benefits of
this act of account of not having attained the age of twenty-one years.
"Section 7. And be it further enacted, That the fifth section of the act entitled "An act in addition
to an act more effectually to provide for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States, and for other
purposes," approved the third of March, in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-seven, shall extend to all
oaths, affirmations, and affidavits, required or authorized by this act.
"Section 8. And be it further enacted, That nothing in this act shall be so construed as to prevent any person
who has availed him or herself of the benefits of the first section of this act, from paying the minimum price,
or the price to which the same may have graduated, for the quantity of land so entered at any time before the expiration
of the five years, and obtaining a patent therefor from the government, as in other cases provided by law, on making
proof of settlement and cultivation as provided by existing laws granting preemption rights."
Approved, May 20, 1862.
The Homestead Act was amended many times over the years. It was repealed on October 21, 1976, except that the effective
date for public lands in Alaska was extended ten years to October 21, 1986.