FATHER OF THE HOMESTEAD
One of the most interesting problems of the early American statesman was what should be done with vacant government lands. In 1803 France had ceded Louisiana to the United States; in 1819 the Floridas had been purchased and thereafter, by the Mexican War, the Oregon Boundary, and the Gadsden Purchase, much other territory was added.
In 1821 Missouri had become a state, and, lying on the outskirts of civilization, was particularly desirous of attracting settlers. Thos. H. Benton, long a Senator from Missouri, was an early advocate of homestead legislation.1 Benton proposed the "Graduation Plan"; a sale but on a graduated scale. The best unoccupied lands would be sold at a fair price, the waste or left-over land at a smaller price, and lands occupied by squatters, who claimed title but in fact had none, at a nominal figure. Benton went so far as to advocate a donation of lands to settlers, after a certain number of years' residence.2 The minimum price of lands before 1820 was $2.00 an acre, with liberal terms of credit; but in 1820 the credit system was abolished and a price of $1.25 cash was fixed.
Graduation homestead bills were frequently offered in Congress in the early part of the last century. The famous Webster-Hayne debate of 1830 was upon resolutions of Foote of Connecticut relating to and criticizing public land legislation. These resolutions inquired as to the advantage the West was getting in the sale of such lands. At that time the issue was not between North and South,3 Southerners not then dreaming that the "Great American Desert," as the recent Louisiana Purchase was called, was a territory larger than the____________________