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Preemption Act

DEFINITION

The Preemption Act was a statute passed by Congress in 1841 by Congress that stated that early settlers, or squatters could petition for ownership of land and property that they had improved.

EXPLANATION

Early American settlers often settled on public land but rarely had enough money to properly purchase it. The earliest temporary preemption laws were passed in 1830, which caused opposition from the eastern states. Most settlers were moving from the East to the West to discover new land, which meant the Eastern states were losing laborers. The government placated the Eastern states by granting that the proceeds of government land sales would be distributed among the states according to population size. Although the Principle of Distribution was only effective for one year, it was enough to keep the Preemption Act in place. Settlers were permitted to claim 160 acres of land after 14 months of residents for as little as $1.25 per acre before it went up for public sale. The Homestead Act lowered the value of the Preemption Act in 1862, and eventually the Preemption Act was repealed in 1891.

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