by June Anderson
Feb. 12 is the anniversary of the 204th birthday of Abraham Lincoln whose presidency marked an important turning point in the destiny of our great nation.
President Lincoln is most often remembered as the Great Emancipator who freed the slaves and for the Gettysburg Address confirming his country’s sacred duty on that bloody Civil War battlefield.
A lesser known credit to his administration was the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862 which has been called the most important act for the welfare of the people ever passed in the United States.
The Homestead Act is considered to be a major factor in the western expansion of the United States.
With the opening of the Minnesota Territory in 1849, the federal government owned most of the land in Minnesota which it had bought from the Indian people for 7.5 cents an acre to resell to its own citizens for $1.25 for that same acre.
In 1852 a political group, called the Free Soil Party, demanded free homesteads for the people fearing that the new territories that were opening up would attract wealthy planters from the south who would develop them with slaves, and force yeomen farmers onto marginal lands.
In 1854 the first free homestead bill was introduced in Congress by Congressman Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania. The people (http://www.legendsofamerica.com/oldwest.html) of the west and poor people everywhere were in favor of the bill; however, there was strong opposition by southern Democrats who, fearing free land would attract European immigrants and poor southern whites to the western territories, had successfully defeated previous homestead laws.
The first Homestead Act was passed by Congress in 1860 requiring the settler to pay 25 cents an acre for his land. However, the bill was vetoed by President Buchanan, whose sympathies lay with the south.
After the Southern states seceded in 1861 and most of their representatives resigned from Congress, the (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Republican_Party_(United_States)”\o “History of the Republican Party (United States)” Republican Congress passed the bill.
It was signed into law by President (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln” \o “AbrahamLincoln”) Abraham Lincoln May 20, 1862.
With the passage of the Homestead Act Minnesota became a major destination for immigrants.
Close to 10,000 applications for land were made in Minnesota in 1862.
During the first three years, the Homestead Act brought more than 75,000 settlers to the state.
Under this law any man or woman 21 years old or the head of a family could be deeded 160 acres of undeveloped land by living on it five years during which time they were to build a home, make improvements and farm the land.
People interested in homesteading first had to file their intentions at the nearest land office and after a check for any ownership claims, the prospector paid a filing fee of $10 to claim the land temporarily, as well as a $2 commission to the land agent.
When all requirements had been completed and the homesteader was ready to take legal possession, he would find two neighbors or friends willing to vouch for the truth of his or her statements regarding land improvement and sign the “proof” document.
After successful completion of this final form and payment of a $6 fee, the homesteader received the patent for the land, signed with the name of the current president of the United States.
Settlers from all walks of life including newly arrived immigrants, farmers without land of their own from the east and Europe, single women, and former slaves, came to Minnesota to fulfill the requirements for free land.
The Homestead Act proved to be the equivalent of the GI Bill for Union soldiers returning from the Civil War as they could apply their time served in the army towards “proving up” their homesteads.
After the Civil War the flood-gates opened and immigrants from northern European countries, attracted by the promises of free land offered by the Homestead Act, streamed into the western states.
More than 11 million acres were settled in Minnesota under the Homestead Act, mainly by immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia.
Many brought along their extended families or were accompanied by neighbors, sometimes even the whole village from the Old Country.
Prior to the Civil War, in 1860, Galusha Grow, a strong abolitionist as well as a major force behind the Homestead Act, made a whistle-stop tour of Minnesota, stopping in Anoka where he gave such an impressive speech that the good citizens of Round Lake were inspired to rename their township, “Grow” in his honor.
It remained Grow Township until 1975 when it became the city of Andover.
We are all the children of immigrants.
How many of us are descended from those early Anoka County homesteaders?
Editor’s note: June Anderson is a volunteer member of the Anoka County Historical Society