Monday, May 21, 2012

"so that every poor man may have a home"

I love talking about the 1862 Homestead Act in Property, but I'm always amazed at how little students know about what I regard as a pivotal law in American history.  (It was personally significant too, as nearly all of my great-great-great-grandparents earned their Nebraska farms under to the Homestead Act or the prior Military Bounty Land Act of 1855.) 

The Disunion series in the New York Times has a fascinating piece today on the history and political rhetoric surrounding the passage of the Homestead Act, including President Lincoln's argument to “[cut] up the wild lands into parcels so that every poor man may have a home.”  So much of the rhetoric still resonates today in discussions regarding Occupy Wall Street, and whether the government should encourage homeownership.

By the way, if you are in Washington, D.C., you can visit the National Archives and view the original documents filed by homesteaders perfecting their claims.  Fascinating stuff.  For example, I found the original handwritten affidavit by my fourth great-grandfather (Jesse Pollard) testifying that my third great-grandfather (Pharagus Pollard) had managed to get 35 of the 160 acres in Richardson County, Nebraska under cultivation in his first year of homesteading, as well as construct a dwelling house that had doors, windows, and a floor.  According to tax and census records, Pharagus did not have a mule, horse, or ox on the farm, so he must have either borrowed the necessary beasts (which is unlikely) or done the work under his own power.  Unfortunately, Pharagus died in the Civil War and left his widow and young children to finish improving the farm. 

Kinda puts grading Property exams in perspective. 

Tanya Marsh

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