An act that gave eligible people land out West essentially for free.
A law passed in 1862 to distribute land to settlers. The law required three steps: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title. Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government (i.e. who wasn't a Confederate), including freed slaves, could file an application and evidence of improvements to a federal land area. The occupant also had to be 21 or older and had to live on the land for five years.
The act was adopted to promote settlement of the West by families (160 acres is a lot of land for almost no money), but that didn't happen too much. The system was exploited by land prospectors who then sold the land to railroad companies. People also often misviewed the opportunity and thought of it as a new start, while instead, the land was often over-farmed or non-arable.