In 1878 the Timber and Stone act was passed to take care of forested land, not suitable for agriculture. Such land was to be sold at not less than $2.50 an acre and in lots of not more than 160 ac. per person. Large areas of this land came into the hands of lumber companies who announced that they would in turn buy forest land from any one who would buy it from the govern ment. By 1923 over 12 million acres of timber land had become private property under the Timber and Stone act, mainly in large holdings of lumber companies.
Coal lands were not included in the general mineral laws. The first law in regard to coal lands was passed in 1864, and amended in 1873. As people began more fully to realize the value of these lands new laws were passed and in 1905 large amounts of land thought to contain coal were withdrawn from entry until they could be properly classified. Five years later, however, a settler wishing agricultural land might take up coal land, the government reserving the right to the coal. In 1917 a law was passed provid ing for the leasing of coal lands in Alaska and in 1920 this leasing policy was extended to the United States and to other minerals.
During this period when land classification was making head way, the Homestead law was liberalized in some respects and made more restrictive in others. In 1891 a law which embodied some of the recommendations contained in the 188o report of the public land commission, reduced the residence requirements under the Homestead law from five to three years and extended the residence requirements for commuted homesteads to 14 months, in order to induce settlers to remain the full three years. This law also authorized the president to withdraw from entry land suitable for forestry. Up to this time it was possible for one person to obtain 1,120 acres from the public domain under the various laws, but after 1891 the total amount one person might acquire was reduced to 32o acres.
Most of the desirable land in the public domain had been alienated by 1900. Coincidently the feeling that more care and
thought should be given to the disposal of the remainder had grown to a considerable extent. This marks the beginning of the conservation movement in the United States. There are at present about 161,000,000 acres in the national forests and about 48,000, 000 acres have been set aside either as mineral or power reserva tions.
The freehold system has always been and is an American ideal. So also is it that one who uses the land should own the land. A dread of tenancy was brought to the United States from Europe. To Americans the European peasant suggests a renter and it is a popular slogan that the United States must not be allowed to drift into peasantry. This means that the American farmer cultivating an economic unit sufficient to maintain his family in comfort with no overlord is the ideal. This ideal of the free and independent farmer which has governed most of the legislation under which we have parted with the public domain and which culminated in the Homestead Act of 1862, passed when Abraham Lincoln was president, epitomized the ideal of free and equal opportunity in a democracy. Other acts have been animated by this same thought. In many states are laws called "Homestead Acts" which exempt the homesteads up to a certain value and a certain num ber of acres from seizure for debt. Here the importance attached to home and farm ownership is again stressed. Moreover, the purpose of the Federal Farm Loan Act passed in 1916 is to give long term credit to farmers and thus make it easier for them to buy farms.