Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The American Homestead Privilege
By Robert John Walker (18011869)
[Born in Northumberland, Penn., 1801. Died in Washington, D.C., 1869. American Finances and Resources. Letter No. II. 1863.]
AS England (proper) contained, in 1861, 18,949,916 inhabitants, if our public domain were as densely settled, its population would exceed 606,000,000, and it would be 260,497,561, if numbering as many to the square mile as Massachusetts. Its average fertility far exceeds that of Europe, as does also the extent of its mines, especially gold, silver, coal, and iron, with every variety of soil, climate, mineral and agricultural products.
These lands are surveyed at the expense of the government into townships of six miles square, subdivided into sections, and these into quarter sections (160 acres), set apart for homesteads. Our system of public surveys into squares, by lines running due north and south, east and west, is so simple as to have precluded all disputes as to boundary or title. This domain reaches from the 24th to the 49th parallel, from the lakes to the gulf, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Its isothermes (the lines of equal mean annual temperature) strike on the north the coast of Norway midway, touch St. Petersburg in Russia, and pass through Manchooria to the coast of Asia, about three degrees south of the mouth of the Amoor river. On the south, these isothermes run through northern Africa, and nearly the centre of Egypt near Thebes, cross northern Arabia, Persia, northern Hindostan, and southern China near Canton .
Now, however, within our present vast domain, not only the poor, but our own industrious classes and those of Europe, may not only find a home, but a farm for each settler, substantially as a free gift by the government. Here all who would rather be owners than tenants, and wish to improve and cultivate their own soil, are invited. Here, too, all who would become equals among equals, citizens (not subjects) of a great and free country, enjoying the right of suffrage, and eligible to every office except the presidency, can come and occupy with us this great inheritance. Here liberty, equality, and fraternity reign supreme, not in theory or in name only, but in truth and reality. This is the brotherhood of man, secured and protected by our organic law. Here the Constitution and the people are the only sovereigns, and the government is administered by their elected agents, and for the benefit of the people. Those toiling elsewhere for wages that will scarcely support existence, for the education of whose children no provision is made by law, who are excluded from the right of suffrage, may come here and be voters and citizens, find a farm given as a homestead, free schools provided for their children at the public expense, and hold any office but the presidency, to which their children, born here, are eligible. What does Europe for any of its toiling millions who reject this munificent offer? He is worked and taxed there to his utmost endurance. He has the right to work, and pay taxes, but not to vote. Unschooled ignorance is his lot and that of his descendants. If a farmer, he works and improves the land of others, in constant terror of rent day, the landlord, and eviction. Indeed the annual rent of a single acre in England exceeds the price$10 (£2 2s. 8d.)payable for the ownership in fee simple of the entire homestead of 160 acres, granted him here by the government. For centuries that are past, and for all time to come, there, severe toil, poverty, ignorance, the workhouse, or low wages, and disfranchisement, would seem to be his lot. Here, freedom, competence, the right of suffrage, the homestead farm, and free schools for his children.
In selecting these homestead farms the emigrant can have any temperature, from St. Petersburg to Canton. He can have a cold, a temperate, or a warm climate, and farming or gardening, grazing or vintage, varied by fishing or hunting. He can raise wheat, rye, Indian corn, oats, rice, indigo, cotton, tobacco, cane or maple sugar and molasses, sorghum, wool, peas and beans, Irish or sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, wine, butter, cheese, hay, clover, and all the grasses, hemp, hops, flax and flaxseed, silk, beeswax and honey, and poultry, in uncounted abundance. If he prefers a stock farm, he can raise horses, asses and mules, camels, milch-cows, working-oxen and other cattle, goats, sheep and swine. In most locations, these will require neither housing nor feeding throughout the year. He can have orchards, and all the fruits and vegetables of Europe, and many in addition. He can have an Irish or German, Scotch, English, or Welch, French, Swiss, Norwegian, or American neighborhood. He can select the shores of oceans, lakes, or rivers; live on tide-water or higher lands, valleys or mountains. He can be near a church of his own denomination; the freedom of conscience is complete: he pays no tithes nor church tax, except voluntarily. His sons and daughters, on reaching twenty-one years of age, or sooner, if the head of a family, are each entitled to a homestead of 160 acres; if he dies, the title is secured to his widow, children, or heirs. Our flag is his, and covers him everywhere with its protection. He is our brother, and he and his children will enjoy with us the same heritage of competence and freedom. He comes where labor is king, and toil is respected and rewarded. If before, or instead of receiving his homestead, he chooses to pursue his profession or business, to work at his trade or for daily wages, he will find them double the European rate, and subsistence cheaper. From whatever part of Europe he may come, he will meet his countrymen here, and from them and us receive a cordial welcome. A government which gives him a farm, the right to vote, and free schools for his children, must desire his welfare.