It opened western land to settlement in America and paved the way for Nebraska to become a state.
This Sunday, the National Park Service celebrates the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Homestead Act in 1862 by President Lincoln at the Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice.
Sen. Mike Johanns will participate in the celebration of the act that encouraged Americans to move west and take up farming.
“Needless to say, that effort can be called very successful,” Johanns says. “So successful, in fact, that in just five years, the territory of Nebraska’s population was large enough to earn statehood. So, it really brought about the statehood for Nebraska.”
Americans seemed eager to take the country up on its offer. After President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law, the nation began to move. More than 1.6 million people took advantage of the offer to claim government land. In all, they settled 270 million acres in 30 states.
Though many states maintain sites to commemorate homesteading, Congress designated the Homestead National Monument of America to preserve the national history.
Events begin early Sunday. The Homestead Education Center opens at 9am as does the Homestead Heritage Center and Homestead Act Exhibit. A panel presentation will begin at 4pm on the Homestead Act, the Morrill Act and the creation of the United States Department of Agriculture. At 6pm, the signing of the act will be commemorated.
Click here for more details on events in Beatrice.
Johanns says it’s hard to overstate the impact the act had not just on the nation, but on Nebraska.
“I don’t believe it’s a stretch at all to say that we became a state at the time we did, because of the Homestead Act,” according to Johanns. “It had such a profound impact on moving people from the eastern part of the country all across the country, including to what became the state of Nebraska.”
The first homestead ever claimed was claimed in Nebraska. Homesteaders claimed nearly half of the total acreage of the state, the largest percentage of a state’s land given to homesteaders.
The actual Homestead Act document will be on display, on loan from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. which considers it one of the 100 most important documents it holds.