George F. Will: The door-opener to America
The spirit of the act was optimistic. As the New York Times said, it would attract “the common people of Europe” who are free from the prejudices of “the aristocratic and snobocratic classes.”
Under the Homestead Act, which continued in effect in Alaska until 1986, more than 270 million acres — approximately 422,000 square miles or 2.5 Californias — were privatized. The truth-tellers at the National Archives say most homesteaders came from near their homesteads — Iowans moved to Nebraska, Minnesotans to South Dakota, etc. Furthermore, speculators, railroads and other sharpies snapped up most of the land: Of 500 million acres dispersed by 1904, only 80 million went to homesteaders. Small farmers settled more land under the act in the 20th century than in the 19th.
Still, Bell rightly notes that the act was an immigration law in effect as well as intent. By 1870, the foreign-born population of Wyoming and Montana was 39 percent; of Dakota Territory's, 34 percent; of Nebraska's, 25 percent. And the peak years of national immigration, 1905-14, were the peak years of homestead claims.
Skeptics will say that the Homestead Act which welcomed immigrants to a sparsely populated continent is irrelevant to today. Skeptics should consider not only that immigration is still an entrepreneurial act but also that as the entitlement state buckles beneath the weight of an aging population, America's workforce needs replenishing.
George Will's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP
Voices Photo Galleriesview all
- 11731OKC Thunder: Thunder trio praise fans before potential departures
- 9188Oklahoma weather: Crews work to clear storm damage in Oklahoma City as the state braces for severe weather Sunday.
- 6809Student shot dead during botched home invasion
- 5811Oklahoma State football: Todd Monken thinks Wes Lunt should've stayed in Stillwater
- 5608Oklahoma medical examiner reports cause of deaths in Grand Lake boat crash
- 4406Soaring gasoline prices hurt Oklahoma City area retailers
- 4394Oklahoma football: Sooners get pair of commitments