On May 20, 1862 president Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, which allowed American citizens to acquire 160-acres of land to settle on for only the price of the filing fee. This Act was passed in order to incentivize Westward expansion.
Overall, from 1862 to 1934, about 10% of the land in the United States was given to citizens to settle their homesteads on, with 1.6 million homesteads distributed for a total of 270 million acres.
This date merely marks an important event in American history, and as such, it is not a public holiday.
Both President Lincoln and the Republican Party believed that everyone in America deserved a fair chance to succeed in life. At the same time, they wanted the newly acquired and explored territory of the West to be populated, farmed and taken care of. The figure of the yeoman farmer was still a valued figure in American life, and as such, Republicans wanted independent farmers to be able to own their own plot of land, rather than the land falling on the hands of wealthy planters who would use slave labor to improve the homesteads.
Thus, all American citizens and people who intended to be citizens, including former slaves, immigrants, and single women were allowed to apply for and own their own plot of land, as long as they filled all of the necessary requirements. These were that they had to be at least 21 years old, or the head of a household, and for five years they had to live on their land, build a home, farm it and generally improve their homestead. The acquisition of the land cost only eighteen dollars.
However, the arrival of homesteaders to the West meant that Native Americans were robbed of their lands and put in reservations by the government.
The Homestead Act lasted for 124 years and ended in 1976, after being replaced by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.