Others were concerned that factories in the East would lose their supply of cheap labor if workers were lured westward by the availability of small blocks of land at low prices. Congressmen from the West argued that settlers were performing a patriotic service when they tamed the wilderness and advanced the frontier...
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Gradually, Congress decreased the minimum unit from 640 acres in 1785 to 320 acres in 1800, 160 acres in 1804, 80 acres in 1820, and 40 acres from 1832 until 1862, when the Homestead Act gave 160 acres free to anyone who would live on the land and cultivate it for five years.
III PASSAGE OF THE HOMESTEAD ACT
The Pre-emption Act of 1841 legitimized squatting by letting farmers claim unsurveyed plots and later buy them from the government...