Abstract

Abstract:

After a long hiatus, scholars are reassessing the Homestead Act of 1862. Most scholars see the Act as a failure, partly because they believe its operation involved massive fraud, for which they blame its “commutation” clause as a chief reason. This article provides a fresh look at homesteading commutations, reframing the question to consider under what conditions an “actual settler” might benefit from commuting his or her claim. The analysis shows that commuting was profitable (rational) when the homesteader was optimistic about the future, undermining most historians’ a priori identification of commutations with fraud. Since allegedly fraudulent commutations play such an outsized role in historians’ conclusion that homesteading was infected with pervasive fraud, this analysis puts their broader verdict in jeopardy as well.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2333-5092
Print ISSN
0275-7664
Pages
pp. 129-150
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-19
Open Access
No
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