Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder Setting & Symbolism

Caroline Fraser
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The West Created by the Homestead Act of 1862

The Homestead Act of 1862, passed by Lincoln, created the pioneer west. In this act, the government granted 160 acres to people who paid a nominal fee and had to prove that they had five years of living on the land to gain ownership over it. The act was an outgrowth of Manifest Destiny, the idea that Americans had a God-given destiny to stretch westward across the continent.

The Homestead Act injected the government into people's financial lives, but the government did not provide the type of support that would have helped the homesteaders become successful. Instead, they suffered under tough environmental conditions, such as droughts and grasshopper infestations, and they would have done better with cooperative forms of agriculture and with government assistance with, for example, storing their grain. Over half of the homesteaders failed over time.

Homesteading also resulted in...

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