(6) 1862-1880.—Af ter years of agitation the Homestead law giving free land to settlers was passed in 1862. Previously the free land movement had encountered insuperable obstacles in the widely supported policy of deriving revenue from the public domain and in the opposition of the southern states, although in Florida and Oregon free grants of as much as 64o acres had been made to attract frontiersmen. However, by 1862 the movement for free land had gathered such momentum that, after the oppos ing southern states had seceded, the law was passed even though the country was in special need of revenue for war purposes. The law provided that settlers were entitled to 16o acres of land free if they lived on their land and cultivated it for five years. The residence requirement was afterwards reduced to three years. No land acquired under the Homestead law could be taken in satisfaction of a debt made before the patent was issued. For those who did not wish to fulfill the residence requirements the commutation privilege provided that after fulfilling certain other requirements a person might buy the land at $1.25 or $2.50 an acre and immediately obtain patents thereto. At first this privilege was rarely used but later when the west was settling more rapidly and the value of land was rising rapidly commutation became very common. It was possible for the speculator to obtain land in this way and sell to farmers. This process was facilitated by the fact that a portion of the west was being opened in which i6o ac. was too small an agricultural unit. In North Dakota, for example, grain farming could be done more profitably on a large farm. Indeed, the average size of the North Dakota farm increased from 382 acres in 1910 to 466 acres in 1920.
The problem of adjusting the land system to the arid region of the west was difficult. When the Homestead law was passed, Con gress had the humid section of the country east of the 1 ooth meridian in mind, but it was soon seen that i6o-ac. tracts were not the proper units for farming on the plains. Accordingly in 1904 an act applying to Nebraska allowed 64o ac. to be taken up under the Homestead law and later 32o ac. was the amount allowed in some other states. Previously, in 1877, a new law had provided that a settler could buy 64o ac. of desert land for $1.25 an acre if he would irrigate it within three years. But the terms of this act were vague and the legislators overlooked the fact that on irrigated land intensive farming was required for which 64o ac. was entirely too much. There was a good deal of fraud in connection with this law. Some of the land was never irri gated but was taken up for grazing. The problem of irrigated land in the arid region was more effectively dealt with in the Carey Act of 1894 under which the states in that region acquired about 4,000,000 ac. for irrigation and settlement. In 19o2 the federal government itself undertook some reclamation projects which, in the course of time, included approximately two million acres.
However, the expense of irrigation proved greater than was an ticipated and many settlers have not been able to meet their pay ments. In the desire to further farm ownership the government overlooked the fact that high-cost irrigated land is not needed at present.
A proper solution of the disposition of grazing land in the west has not yet been worked out. Many stockmen have simply used the public domain. This worked satisfactorily until farmers wished to settle some of this land which was also suitable for farming. In 1916 an act was passed providing that land for stock raising could be taken up in 640-acre tracts. This amount is wholly inadequate in most parts of the grazing country. Much larger areas are needed where land is suitable only for grazing and enough cannot be taken up under present laws. In many in stances stockmen got control of the land immediately adjacent to a water supply and then used the surrounding country. Some of the states have developed the policy of leasing grazing priv ileges on state-owned land, a policy which the Federal government also follows with respect to the national forests. Considering these last-discussed classes of land in the aggregate, by 1923, under the homestead, timber culture, desert land and reclamation acts, 256,000,000 ac. had passed into the hands of private owners. (7) 188o-1929.—Until the decade of the seventies little dis tinction among classes of land was made by the government. The gold, silver, lead and copper mines were specifically mentioned in the ordinance of 1785 and the saline lands were reserved in the act of 1796, but no general law applying to minerals was passed until 1866, and this law was nothing more than a confirmation of local customs in regard to mining. Because land was so abun dant, little attention was given to the importance of natural re sources and classification was not considered necessary. Even in the Civil War decade timber land was so plentiful that forests were regarded more as a liability than an asset. However, when settlement on the plains of the west began in earnest an interest in the forests and their preservation began to grow. In 1873 under the timber culture act a farmer was allowed i6o ac. additional in return for devoting one-fourth of his farm to the growth of trees. This law remained in force until 1891, though it did not bring the expected results. Tree growing of this kind was not suited to the section of the country then being developed and in addition one-fourth of the farm was a good deal to devote to tim ber culture. However, the law made it possible for men who had already taken up land under the homestead and pre-emption laws to acquire another 16o acres. As a result, about 10,000,000 ac. were alienated.