By 1853, the U.S. Government possessed 1.5 billion acres of property then commonly known as the public domain. This essentially included all land owned by the federal government and not a part of the original 13 states. Obtained through territorial acquisitions ranging from state cessions to the Louisiana Purchase and the Gadsden Purchase (U.S. Department of Interior, 1998), this largely undeveloped land was an important resource and potential source of wealth. The issue of how to distribute and administer this public land that formed a continuous strip of territory from east to west coast was an important policy question that had ramifications for how the country would grow and develop.
Williams Shanks, T. R. (2005). The Homestead Act of the nineteenth century and its influence on rural lands (CSD Working Paper No. 05-52). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.