« ForrigeFortsett »
tered in its advocacy, and the conditions on which the great boon was finally wrung from its slaveholding enemies, should be fully known and understood.
It will be seen hereafter how immense the public domain yet is, even after the squandering of millions of acres on speculators and monopolists, which the last few years have witnessed. What disposition was to be inade of this vast domain, was a question which long occupied the minds of thoughtful men, and of all who had the best interests of society at heart. Like most other questions in this country, it degenerated ultimately into one of party. It was clearly seen by one body of citizens that unless some radical change were made in the law, the public domain would continue to be the spoil of monopolists and speculators, the inevitable end of which would be the creation of an odious landed aristocracy. To prevent an evil so dangerous to public liberty, they determined that the only remedy was to set it aside for the exclusive use of actual settlers, in small quantities, giving it to them either at a nominal price, or as an absolute gift.
The question was an exceedingly simple one, if to be decided on its own merits. But no sooner had the free-land policy been enunciated, than the slavepower rose up in opposition. It was a measure in the interest of freedom, and slavery could not tolerate it. As the latter had for many years controlled the action of the government, so it was to override it now. Being itself a huge landed aristocracy, it saw with instant alarm the prospect of a multitude of small freeholds being established, knowing that in such a community an aristocracy could not exist. It had uniformly been hostile to pre-emption laws, and all others which tended to aid the settler in acquiring a small tract of land, and hence its bitter opposition to the free-soil scheme. Such settlers would be working men, mostly from the Free States, who would not only till the soil with their own hands, but would build school-houses, establish newspapers, and diffuse education. As no such community of intelligent toilers was permitted in the South, so should it be forbidden in the West.
On the 20th of January, 1859, a bill relating to pre-emptions being before the House of Representatives, Mr. Grow, of Pennsylvania, moved a section that no public land should thereafter be exposed to public sale by the President, unless it had been surveyed for ten or more years before such sale. The force and effect of this provision would be to give pre-emptors a start of ten years ahead of the speculators, that is, settlers would have ten years in which to choose, buy, or locate on the public lands before they could be sold to the speculators—thus giving the poor and industrious man abundant time to clear up his farm and pay for it from the productions of the soil.
The slave-power wanted no such liberty extended to the poor man. It therefore sought to defeat the bill; but Mr. Grow's amendment was adopted by a vote of 98 to 81.
The Republican vote was unanimous in its favor, and the entire slave-power voted against it, nine only excepted. Mr. Grow's amendment thus became part of the bill; but when the vote on the bill itself came to be taken, 91 Republicans voted for it, while the whole body of slaveholders, with their Northern allies, 95 in number, went against it. Only two members from the Slave States voted for the bill, Mr. Blair, of Missouri, and Mr. Winter Davis of Maryland, who represented the free-labor interests of Baltimore.
In February, the Homestead Bill was voted on in the House, and was passed by 120 to 76, only three Southern members voting for it. The bill was killed in the Senate by smothering it, all but five of the Southern Senators going against it. It was then abandoned for the session. In both Houses of Congress the Republicans had gone solid for it, while the slaveholders and their allies had so unanimously opposed it as to insure its defeat.
In 1860, another Homestead Bill was introduced into the House by the Republicans, and was passed by 115, all from the Free States but one, to 65 against it, all from the Slave States but one, and he a Pennsylvanian. When this bill went into the Senate, it was superseded by a substitute, which the House subsequently accepted, with slight amendments, the Republicans as usual voting for free homes, and the slaveholders and their allies opposing them. This took place in June. But Buchanan, then President, and the feeble and truculent tool of the slaveholders, vetoed the beneficent enactment, and once more it fell to the ground.
But undismayed by these reverses, the friends of the bill persevered in their determination to provide free homes for the poor; and overcoming all opposition, passed the present law, which Mr. Lincoln, on the 20th of May, 1862, did not hesitate to sign. The provisions of this act are as follow :
AN ACT to Secure Homesteads to Actual Settlers on the Public
Domain, and to provide a Bounty for Soldiers in lieu of Grants of the Public lands.
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 1st of January, 1863, be entitled to enter one quarter section, or a less quantity, of unappropriated public lands, upon which said person may have filed a pre-emption claim, or which may, at the time the application is made, be subject to preemption at $1.25, or less, per acre; or eighty acres or less of such unappropriated lands, at $2.50 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 100 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 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 $10, 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 case of a widow making such entry, her heirs or devisee, in 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 that 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