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.