Lesson Plan

The Legacy of the Homestead Act

U.S. Presidents remember the Homestead Act.
Agriculture, Government, History, Immigration, Law, Leadership, Social Studies, U.S. Presidents, Westward Expansion
45-50 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36 (6-12 breakout groups)


In "The Legacy of the Homestead Act" students will identify aspects of text that reveal an author's point of view.

The Homestead Act and President Lincoln unit is broken up into five lesson plans, taking 45-50 minutes to complete, targeting sixth through eighth grade students.  A class does not have to complete every lesson in the unit - each lesson comes with its own set of objectives and resources.  This is lesson 4 of the unit. 


Guiding Question:
What is the legacy of the Homestead Act of 1862?

Critical Content:
Quotes from U. S. Presidential speeches

Student Objectives:
Students will:

  • distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgement in text.
  • identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose.


President Abraham Lincoln made the Homestead Act a law by signing it on May 20, 1862. This law gave 160 acres of land away to individuals who met certain requirements. In order to file a claim, an individual had to be at least 21 years of age or be the head of household. This law allowed women to file claims and own land. The act also required a person to be a citizen of the United States or declare intention to gain citizenship. This allowed many European immigrants, African-Americans and others to stake claims as well. Many railroads and western towns sent representatives to European countries to entice people to move to the United States. These representatives showed pictures of beautiful towns with tree-lined streets and rich soil for farming.

The applicant of a claim had to file an affidavit with the local land office stating they met the conditions required by the law. At this time, the claimant would pay a fee of $12 for filing the paperwork.

Once the filing was complete, there were additional requirements to meet in order to receive the patent and title to the land. A person had to build a home, live on the land, make the land his/her permanent residence, and work the land for a period of 5 years.

Many people who came to claim land paid for the services of a locator. This person would assist them in finding an unclaimed tract of land. Many locators showed individuals land near their own claim in order to "settle" the country and have neighbors nearby.

After living on the land, building a home, and farming the land for 5 years, it was time to "prove up." This simply required the homesteader to find two individuals who would serve as witnesses. These witnesses had to state they had known the homesteader for 5 years, knew the claimant had tilled the land and grown crops. With witnesses in tow, a claimant would proceed to the land office to "prove up," paying another small filing fee of $6 and having both witnesses sign the final documents. Afterwards, the claimant would receive a final certificate or patent to the land, having met all the conditions.

Homesteading by the Numbers

10 Percent of U.S. land given away under the Homestead Act.

30 Number of states in which homestead lands were located.

40 Percent of homesteaders that "proved up" their claims earned a deed from the federal government.

123 Years the Homestead Act was in effect.

160 Acres in a typical homestead claim.

4,000,000 Approximate number of claims made under the Homestead Act.

27,000,000 Total number of acres distributed by the Homestead Act.


For this lesson you will need:

Copies of Presidential Quotes refering to the Homestead Act of 1862

*Note these are available online if access is available.


Ask students to identify some events or documents in American History that are important – write responses on a board. Students should then be asked how they know that these events or documents are important – responses should include how much people talk about it or how often officials refer to it. Tell students that they will identify how Presidents of the United States have remembered the Homestead Act.

Provide students with copies of the Presidential Quotes. Students may be divided into groups and allowed to evaluate the quotes. Students should be instructed to select the words or phrases that describe how that President referred to or regarded the Homestead Act. Conduct a class discussion of how the Homestead Act is remembered and do students agree or disagree with the ideas expressed by the Presidents.


Students will produce their own short Presidential speeches. Have students choose a current event that can relate to their view of the Homestead Act and create a short speech that makes reference to the Act in a manner that they feel best "remembers" the importance of this historical document.

Additional Resources

Other Lesson Plans

This lesson plan is part of a larger curriculum unit on the Homestead Act and President Lincoln for grades sixth through eighth. To view the entire curriculum or other individual lesson plans, please click the links below.

The Homestead Act and President Lincoln (entire unit)

Lesson 1: Getting to Know the Homestead Act
Lesson 2: Homestead Act Paperwork
Lesson 3: Homesteading by the Numbers
Lesson 4: The Legacy of the Homestead Act
Lesson 5: The Legacy of Abraham Lincoln

Additional ONLINE Lesson Plans created by Homestead National Monument of America in partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Homestead Act of 1862
Students will examine congressional laws and homesteading records while searching for clues as to what order to put them in. The documents used in the activity should be examined carefully as to their correct order. The names and dates are of no significance. It is the type of document that is significant and what order they would have been done to claim land under the Homestead Act of 1862.

Beginning of a Dream, Homestead Act Made Law Part 1
Beginning of a Dream, Homestead Act Made Law Part 2
Students will examine primary sources to help them understand relationships among events. After each document or set of documents students will be asked to make the connection between the documents.

Videos to complement activities

Beginning of a the Dream: Homestead Act Made Law (21:31)
Beginning of the Dream, Homestead Act Made Law is a short film on the Homestead Act of 1862. It was done in the partnership with Homestead National Monument of America and the National Archives and Records Administration. This film covers a brief history of the Homestead Act of 1862 and its impacts. The film discusses the document itself; where it is kept, how it is preserved and its current condition. It also discusses the National Archives and their role in preserving documents and materials such as the Homestead Act of 1862 for generations to come.

Filled with Stories: Homestead Records Project (11:10)
Filled With Stories: The Homestead Records Digitization Project is a short film on how the original records of those who claimed land under the Homestead Act of 862 are being digitized. This film was done in partnership with Homestead National Monument of America and the National Archives and Records Administration. This film covers the digitization process from beginning to end. It also gives an in-depth look at how records are restored/preserved by paper conservators.

Impacts of the Homestead Act (4:26)
Produced by Homestead National Monument of America, this video describes the impacts of the Homestead Act of 1862.