Homestead Act

In this report of the Agricultural Committee to the House of Representatives, the importance of European immigration into the American West for the continued prosperity and growth of the nation is emphasized in a call for the establishment of an Emigration Bureau. Note the emphasis on the need for internal improvements (including the railroad) to facilitate the mobility of immigrants and agricultural products.

37th Congress, 3rd Session.
Report No. 42
House of Representatives

To accompany bill H. R. No. 761
FEBRUARY 14, 1863.--Ordered to be printed.

Mr.ALDRICH, from the Committee on Agriculture, made the following REPORT.

The Committee on Agriculture, to whom was referred a resolution of the House inquiring into the expediency of establishing an Emigrant Bureau in connection with the Department of the Interior,and to report by bill or otherwise, report:

To appreciate the benefits of future immigration we must form an adequate estimate of the advantages already derived from the same source. They are no less than the achievements of human labor throughout the United States since the first man of European race made for himself a home on this continent. The wilderness, reclaimed and transformed into farms, yielding sustenance and riches for ourselves and a surplus for the inhabitants of the Old World, our thriving villages and vast cities, our manufactures, commerce, and wealth, all that illustrates the progress of industry and Christian civilization in every part of our country, originated in immigration. Our people are either immigrants or their decedents. It is as plain and well known that our national existence results from the advent of industrious foreigners to our shores as that the rivers and lakes owe their sources to the rain-drops.

The number of immigrants and their posterity, being the population of the United States, together with the ratio of increase, is shown in the following table:

1790 ……3,929,827
1800 ……5,305,937 … …35.02 per cent. ratio of increase.
1810 ……7,239,814 … …36.45 per cent. ratio of increase.
1820 ……9,638,131 … …33.13 per cent. ratio of increase.
1830 … …12,866,020 … …33.49 per cent. ratio of increase.
1840 … …17,069,453 … …32.67 per cent. ratio of increase.
1850 … …23,191,876 … …35.87 per cent. ratio of increase.
1860 … …31,443,790 … …35.58 per cent. ratio of increase.


The following numbers, registered under the act of 1819, and copied from the authentic summary of the census of 1860, show that more than five millions of people, immigrants or alien passengers, arrived in the country during the period intervening between September 3, 1819, and December 31, 1860:

Males.Females.Sex not stated.Total.
Year ending September 30, 1820 … …4,871 2,3931,1218,385
1821 … …4,6511,6362,8409,127
1822 … …3,8161,0132,0826,911
1823 … …3,5988481,9086,354
1824 … …4,7061,3931,813 7,912
1825 … …6,9172,959323 [illegible]
1826 … …7,7023,07857 10,837
1827 … …11,8035,9391,133 18,875
1828 … …17,26110,06061 27,382
1829 … …11,3035,1126,105 22,520
1830 … …6,4393,13513,748 23,322
1831 … …14,9097,724 … …....22,633
1832 … …34,59618,583 … …....53,179
Quarter ending December 311832 … …4,6912,5121007,303
1833 … …41,54617,094 … …....58,640
1834 … …38,79622,5404,02965,365
1835 … …28,19617,027151 45,374
1836 … …47,86527,553824 76,242
1837 … …48,83727,6532,85079,340
1838 … …23,47413,6851,75538,914
1839 … …42,93225,12512 68,069
1840 … …52,88331,13251 84,066
1841 … …48,08232,031176 80,289
1842 … …62,27741,907381104,565
First three quarters of … 1843 … …30,06922,4243 52,496
Year ending September 30,1844 … …44,43134,184 … …....78,615
1845 … …65,01548,1151,241114,371
1846 … …87,77765,742897 154,416
1847 … …136,08697,917965 234,968
1848 … …133,90692,149472 226,527
1849 … …177,232119,280512297,024
1850 … …196,331112,6351,038310,004
Year ending December 31,1850 … …32,99026,80518159,976
1851 … …217,181162,21966 379,466
1852 … …212,469157,6961,438371,603
1853 … …207,958160,61572 368,645
1854 … …256,177171,656 … …....368,645
1855 … …115,30785,5673 200,877
1856 … …115,84684,590 … …....200,436
1857 … …146,215105,091 … …....251,306
1858 … …72,82450,002300 123,126
1859 … …69,16151,640481121,282
1860 … …88,47765,07786 153,640
Totals … … 2,977,6032,035,53649,2755,062,414

Measured by periods of ten years each, the progress of immigration has rapidly increased--the number of people thus added to the population of the United States, having been more than twenty-three times as great in the eleven years and three months ending December 31, 1860 as in the ten years ending September 30, 1829. In the former period nearly three millions of passengers landed on our shores.

The accelerated advance of immigration is compendiously sketched in the following table:

Periods.?Passengers of foreign birth. Americans and foreign.
In the 10 years ending September 30, 1829 … ….. 128,502 151,683
In the 10(1/2) years ending December 31, 1839 …. 538,381 572,716
In the 9(3/4) years ending September 30, 1849 …. 1,472,337 1,479,478
In the 11(1/4) years ending December 31, 1860 …. 2,968,194 3,255,591
In the 41(1/4) years ending December 31,1860 … … 5,062,414 5,459,421

Adjusting the return to the periods of the decennial census, by the aid of the quarterly reports, we find a similar result:

Three census periods. Passengers of foreign birth.
In the ten years previous to June 1, 1840… … … … 552,000
In the ten years previous to June 1, 1850… … … … 1,558,300
In the ten years previous to June 1, 1860… … … … 2,707,624

An inspection of the following table will show that while in the six New England States population has already attained a density of nearly fifty inhabitants to the square mile, and the six middle States, including Maryland, Delaware, and Ohio, contain nearly seventy inhabitants to the square mile, a population almost as dense as that of Europe, taken as an aggregate, where there are seventy-three people to the same area, the central slave States, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas, where the climate is well adapted to the labor of the European, have within the same limit less than twenty-one persons, the northwestern States, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Kansas, have about twenty-two; Texas and California little more than two, and the population in the Territories, not yet organized under State governments, is merely nominal in proportion to their extent:

?Some of these passengers have returned to Europe, but, as the immigrants to the United States via Canada, by the printed return, are not included in the above statement, the estimate is believed to be lower than the facts warrant.

Table showing the area and population of States in 1850 and 1860.

States.Area in square miles. Population. No. of inhabitants to square miles. Population. No. of inhabitants to square mile.
New England States… … … 63,272 2,728,106 43.11 3,125,283 49.55
Middle States, including Maryland,
Delaware, and Ohio… ….
151,760 8,553,713 56.36 10,597,661 69.83
Coast planting States, including
South Carolina, Georgia, Florida,
Alabama, Mississippi,and Louisi-
ana… …… … …
286,077 3,557,872 12.43 4,364,927 15.25
Central slave States; Virginia, N.
Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky,
Missouri, and Arkansas … … ….
309,210 5,167,276 16.71 6,471,887 20.93
Northwestern States; Michigan,
Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Min-
nesota, and Kansas… …..
250,295 2,734,945 10.92 5,543,382 22.14
Texas… …… … … 273,321 212,592 0.89 604,215 2.55
California… … … … 188,982 165,000 0.87 379,994 2.01

Should our country continue to increase at the rate of its progress up to 1861, it would not before the year 1925 attain the density of population equal to that of the Old World. Including the great western valley of the Mississippi, we have a territory more fertile than that of Europe, and better capable of supporting in comfort a population equally numerous in proportion to our territory. We should then number 217,186,000.

The increase in the inhabitants of the great middle States has been at the rate of twenty-five per cent., during the last decade, while that of the northwestern group has been one hundred per cent. It is to the less populous States, and to the Territories, that the influx of immigrants can be best directed, alike as regards their own welfare and prosperity and the benefits they will confer on the nation. The growth of these States represent the reclamation of new lands from the waste forest and prairies, to be a possession for civilized man forever. It indicates the development of mining, agricultural, and pastoral wealth out of the natural riches provided for the use and enjoyment of man, but yet chiefly unappropriated. The increase in the population of these States is directly due, in a great degree, to the settlement of immigrants; and the whole population of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Kansas added together, exceeds only by one-tenth the number of foreign passengers to this country since 1819, to say nothing of their increase by the ordinary laws of population.

The advantages offered to the immigrant are greater than in the earlier periods of our history. The prairie land of the west, yet unoccupied and ready for his labor and ownership, is more fertile, and far more easily brought under cultivation than the land of the Atlantic States. Instead of the arduous toil of clearing away the forest with axe, the patient oxen and horses, harnessed to the plough and guided by the hand of man, suffice to bring the willing soil under the subjection of agriculture and civilization. In the northwest a bracing climate sustains the energy of the laborer. The peculiar dryness and purity of the atmosphere of Minnesota renders that region especially favorable to the enjoyment of vigorous life.

The "Homestead bill" of May 20, 1862, evinces the desire of the western States, and of the nation, to maintain a wise and liberal policy towards the actual settler on the public lands; and provides that he may secure a hundred and sixty acres, free from all debts previously contracted, as a perpetual freehold for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation, on the payment of ten dollars, estimated to be the expense of surveying it.

In addition to the agricultural resources of the western States and Territories, which must forever remain dormant and useless without the hand of man, are those of the six central States, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas, where the population, being less than twenty-one inhabitants to the square mile, is even yet more thinly scattered than in the northwestern States. Their soil, though less fertile than that of the prairies, rewards abundantly the labor of the husbandman, and they are well adapted, by a milder climate, to rearing horses, mules, sheep, cattle, and other domestic animals.

In California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Dakota, and other regions, are unlimited quantities of the precious metals to reward industry. As yet their proper development has scarcely begun. In the six central States, and in some portions of the northwest, are inexhaustible quantities of the various metals and minerals most useful in practical life. Situated in the heart of the continent, their location affords easy access to the best markets for the supply of our people. With the increase of industrious immigration into the salubrious regions of the interior would rapidly arise reinvigorated prosperity, and the increased value of real estate would enrich the present owners beyond precedent or expectation.

Such are the mutual relations of the different States. So fitly have the different portions of the continent been framed together, acting and reacting upon each other in their prosperity and adversity, that the development of the interior and western regions must enrich and employ the people of the older States. The wealth accumulated by the emigrant to the western or central States will return in a perpetual and fertilizing stream to remunerate the workman in the eastern manufactories, and multiply beyond present hopes the freights of the messengers of commerce on every sea and to every land.

To effect this we need the hands and aid of men who now, for meager remuneration, drag on a life of care and toil in the more thickly peopled parts of Europe. In return for their labor we offer them the full privileges of political equality, abundance of land, readily converted into farms and homesteads, and such remuneration as will unsure personal independence for themselves and their children.

The plans for internal improvements, including the project of one or more railroads from the western lakes and rivers to the Pacific ocean; for ship canals and other beneficial purposes or works, are indissolubly connected with immigration--an important element in the supply of laborers on our public works and settlers in the new regions of our country. Immigrants will, to a great extent, construct these works and furnish business for them when they are completed. Their early and permanent success depends in no small degree upon our continuing to attract hither, as formerly, a fair share of the population of older countries, and in providing for their welfare and profitable employment on their arrival.

It is necessary to remember that the most favorable fields for the new settlers are no longer on the Atlantic coast, and that the disappointments which have been the lot of many who remained in the older States have a tendency to discourage future arrivals. The advance of mankind in many useful and renumerative arts, and the progress of steam navigation, connecting new and distant countries with Europe, have increased value and consideration to man--the cheapest, sometimes the least regarded, and yet always the most valuable of all commodities--and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Cape of Good Hope, Algeria, Buenos Ayres, New Granada, Brazil, and other regions, are desirous of securing a share of the surplus population. The fertility of our soil, salubrity of climate, inexhaustible supplies of mineral resources, liberal character of our institutions, and gratuitous grants of land to the actual settler, added to both the shortness of the journey from Europe, unitedly present to the immigrant advantages equalled in no other country. Within eighteen days from Liverpool, in England, availing himself of the economical accommodations of a "propeller," he and his family may have passed through Chicago or Milwaukee, and be carried to any of the chief points of travel in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, or Minnesota, or have arrived at their new homes in any of the central States.

We have ministers and consuls who represent our diplomatic and commercial interests in many countries. We need agents who, making out natural alliance with the laboring classes of Europe the object of their special duty, may, by the publication of appropriate information and such other methods as their researches will show to be expedient, co-operate with our representatives abroad, and enable them better to assist the cause of immigration--the union of cheap land with willing labor--thus developing the natural resources of which, under Providence, we are the guardians and trustees for the benefit of mankind--and object which, when conducted on liberal principles, will be alike beneficial to the immigrant himself, to the country he leaves, and the land of his adoption.

The accompanying bill provides that from the moment the immigrant lands upon our shores he shall feel the fostering and parental care of the government to guard him against the impositions by which strangers are often and easily beset in a country to which they are unaccustomed, and to furnish him reliable information for his guidance. Frequently, unable to speak our language, he is involved in a labyrinth of difficulties. The necessity of this case is well known, and needs no proof. The remedy should proceed from a national and central authority, because his journey will often lead him through many different States, and no care or guidance, having only a sectional application, can suffice for his protection.

The certainty of meting with friendly and trustworthy aid in a distant country, of finding employment and a home, and of being safely guided to the tract of land which, under our laws, will be his own, would have much to do in directing the footsteps of the emigrant to this country, in preference those where inferior advantages await him. While the objects of the bill tend to promote our own prosperity, individually as a nation, and to benefit multitudes of our fellow-men who are now toiling for scanty wages in the crowded hive of the old world, the works now proposed, being based on the firm foundation of liberality, good will, and wisdom, will live after us in the welfare of unborn millions to inherit in the future the lands their forefathers have won from the wilderness.

The committee report the accompanying bill, and recommend its passage.

About this Document

  • Publisher: United States Government
  • Publisher: United States Government
  • Published: Washington, D. C.
  • Published: Washington, D. C.
  • Date: February 14, 1863