Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy > Vol 3 > Issue 2

Does Equality Persist? Evidence from the Homestead Act

Bryan Leonard, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, USA, , Brian Kogelmann, Department of Philosophy, University of Maryland-College Park, USA,
Suggested Citation
Bryan Leonard and Brian Kogelmann (2022), "Does Equality Persist? Evidence from the Homestead Act", Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy: Vol. 3: No. 2, pp 215-241.

Publication Date: 28 Jun 2022
© 2022 B. Leonard and B. Kogelmann
Political economy,  Political history
Homestead Actproperty rightseconomic developmentpersistenceinequality


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In this article:
The Homestead Act 
Moral Foundations of the Homestead Act 
Data and Empirical Strategy 
Inequality in the Short Run 
Inequality in the Long Run 


Passed in 1862, the Homestead Act was an important piece of legislation that gave away 160 acres of land in the Western United States to any individual willing to settle, cultivate, and occupy the land for a period of 5 years. Social scientists have examined the various impacts of the act extensively, but not in terms of its original aims. Many of those who fought for passage of the act rested their case on the moral claim that all persons have an equal right to the soil. This paper examines the extent to which the Homestead Act actually lived up to this moral ideal. We ask: did the Homestead Act lead to greater equality in the ownership of land? We find that the act did achieve greater equality in the short run but, in the long run, this equality proved fleeting, disappearing within 100 years of the act’s passage.