In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, which played an important role in the settlement of the American West. The law went into effect 150 years ago in 1863 and remained in effect until its repeal in 1976, although a 10-year extension was granted for claims in Alaska.
	Before 1862, the federal government sold its unoccupied property, favoring men with capital. By the 1840s, huge farms were consuming smaller ones. In 1860, Pennsylvania Republican Galusha Grow warned that the nation was courting a system of land monopoly, "one of the deadliest curses that ever paralyzed the energies of a nation."
	President Lincoln wanted to address the problem, but large southern landowners objected. During the Civil War, while they were busy with other things, Congress passed the Homestead Act. 
	Beginning in 1963, any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who had never taken up arms against the United States could claim up to 160 acres. They had to build a house at least 12 feet by 14 feet and farm the land for five years in order to get a deed. Female heads of households were eligible and African Americans were eligible after they became citizens under the 14th amendment, which was passed in 1868.
	In all, homesteaders received 270 million acres in 30 states, 10 percent of the land in the United States. Four million people signed claims. The migration west helped set the stage for rapid development in the United States. 
	Unfortunately, not all homesteaders were successful. Some of the land was poor for farming and some of those who claimed it had no farming experience and little money to buy tools. They had to abandon their claims.  
	Still, the Homestead Act is credited for transforming America into a rising global power.