The Homestead Act:
Free land and getting a new start in life
The 1862 Act only limited those applying to having to be the head of a family or at least twenty-one years old. Thus a young married couple still in their teens could homestead. Also, the law, while requiring citizenship, did allow for non-citizens to begin homesteading if they had filed a declaration of intention to become a citizen, as required by the naturalization laws of the United States. Also, the 1862 Homestead Act required that the homestead applicant had not “borne arms against the United States Government” or given aid or comport to its enemies. Interestingly, what this provision did, when written in 1862, was to make citizens of all the Southern States that had left the USA to become part of the Confederacy ineligible for homesteading. (This right was later restored after the end of the Civil War. Also, the passage of the 1866 Homestead Act further aided homesteaders in Southern States.)
What is also remarkable was that the possibility of obtaining free land in America under the 1862 Homestead Act became known fairly soon after its passage outside the United States causing people to immigrate to America sometimes only for this reason. Statistics don’t exist to show how many people came from Europe to America solely to homestead, but a guess is tens of thousands. There have been some books written by descendants of Russian peasants, Scandinavian farm workers, and other Europeans who, under great difficulties due to cost and language, came to America to homestead. For those who arrived through New York City in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, the Statue of Liberty welcomed them to new lives soon to be based on the benefits of starting a new life on the free land that homesteads provided.