On this date in 1862, Mr. Lincoln signed a significant piece of legislation into law. It was the Homestead Act of 1862. It provided for the distribution of government land to those who promised to settle on it and improve it. Any adult, without regard for race or sex, could apply for 160 acres of land (This was increased during the 20th Century to as much as 640 acres). If the provisions were met (Those who had taken up arms against the U.S. Government were disqualified), the applicant could acquire title to the land after five years.
Eventually, 1.6 million applications were made, and while only about 40% of applicants obtained title to the land, about 270 million acres of government land (Some 10% of the land mass of the U.S.) were passed to private individuals. The legislation had a profound effect on the settlement of the country long after the Civil War ended.
Looking back I have to wonder how a 12 x 14 dwelling and growing of crops was "improving" the land. Of course in 1863 they didn't have a way of knowing how the growing of crops could have disaterous results for the Great Plains.
And as the article points out, there were loopholes here. The first of which being the minimum size of the dwelling. Does it have to be 12' x 14' or can you say a minimum of 12" x 14" and then build a 9' x 11' cabin? Technically 9' x 11' fits the wording of the legislation as it is more than a minimum 12 x 14 dwelling if the legislation is interperted in inches. Clearly the legislation was meant to be in terms of feet as what human can live in a dwelling 12" x 14", but this wasn't specified and thus left room for the arguement that without that specification any dwelling over 12" x 14" fit. And at same time someone could build a bird house fiting those measurements in inches and still argue they had built a dwelling on the land, thus meet the required dwelling to improve the land.
Over a century ago my maternal grandfather was a homesteader. I'm not sure what the exact requirements were but you had three years to "improve" the land. That meant "x" amount of acres had to be cleared, crops in the ground, fences and dwellings built. Only then would you get a clear title. If you couldn't accomplish the task in time, you lost the land.
This country was all bush, no easy task to clear, plow, and farm wilderness. When he came he was alone, lived in a dug-out sod house his first winter (Canada, that's tough). Eventually he found a wife and had many kids, saved up enough to buy an adjacent quarter, turned his farm into a going concern. The homestead is still in our family, and if it were not for Homestead Acts, I would never have been born.
That farm gave my grandfather everything he needed to make something of himself. I like to think a tad of his courage lives in me still, always remember him, tall and lean, a man of few words, steel in his spine, with the greatest fondness. Long ago a bunch of legislators down east gave a poor immigrant a shot; he did not disappoint.
But did they specify a size for the dwelling? That's what got me in the link TD posted was that the article specified dimensions but not if those dimensions were in inches or feet. It's pretty obvious the article means a dwelling you or I could live in, which would obviously be the same for our ancestors. But if the actual US Homestead Act of 1862 was written the same way as the article, then folks applying for it could have interpreted it as I discussed above. Of course Mr. Freeman built his house in terms of feet, a 14 by 20 foot, one story dwelling with a shingle roof, board floor, and two doors (think that's supposed to be two windows after the doors but I can't be certain I'm reading it as two just like the doors).
I know I'm being an ********** about the whole dimension thing, and that the government even then would have argued that it should be obvious what was meant if there's nothing in the actual write up of the act that says the dimensions have to be in feet or inches, but I think it's something you'd have to have been as it's an open to interpretation type of thing. Technically you don't need 12' x 14' minimum for a dwelling for folks to live in. In the spring of '87 my family spent about three months living in a popup camper trailer about 78" x 177" in dimension (6.5' x 14.75' or about 1.98m. x 4.5m.) because the woman we had been renting our house from decided to kick us out early. She'd been using the house as her "Let's try an get me pregnant in the country" love nest and we were supposed to move out in May or June rather than March or April and didn't yet have a place to move into so we had to live in our camper for a few months. And the worst part was she put the place up for sale about a month after we moved out and didn't want anyone from around here to be able to buy it (she lived in NYC and only used it a few months out of the year). Would have loved to have spent more time in that place, an old pre-Civil War two story farmhouse complete with carriage barn and a few acres of land. But for a few months we survived in the camper and I know there are folks who live year round in something that size.