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The Art of Mort Künstler / The American Spirit / The Old West

Here you will find a pictorial chronicle of the drama and excitement of American History. These paintings give the viewer an insight into the tumultuous life of this young nation that mere words cannot achieve.

Homestead Act, The

From the first English settlements at Jamestown and Plymouth, the land was "free" if it could be wrestled from the native Americans. With independence, the states took over and discovered an inability to preserve their claims from land-hungry settlers. Both the states and the nation attempted the plan of selling property to land companies, which in turn sold it off to settlers. The vast majority of the pioneers who pushed across the Alleghenies, however, preferred to take what they thought was rightfully theirs without payment.

As early as 1812, a "True American Society" in Ohio asserted that "every man is entitled by Nature to a portion of the soil." In the nineteenth century, this principle came to be widely accepted. It was one of the principles of the Free Soil Party and was taken over, in 1856, by the newborn Republican party. With the secession of the slave-holding South, opposition to "free" soil, both as free for settlers and as "free" of slaves, disappeared.

On May 20, 1862, President Lincoln signed a Homestead Act which gave to any person "the head of a family or of 21 years of age," who had not fought in the Confederate Army the right to claim 160 acres of public land. It was, potentially, one of the most revolutionary Acts ever passed by a modern legislature, even if it did not quite work out to be a revolution. Most of the newly opened land came into the hands of giant corporations and land speculators, but perhaps as much as 300 million acres of precious American property were acquired by "homesteaders."

Date Created: 1985

Medium: Gouache

Image Size: 13-1/4" x 14-5/8/"

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2020. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.