Identify and describe one of the policies meant to promote American industry or foster expansion of the American West. 

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The Homestead Act of 1862 promoted Westward Expansion by offering 160 miles of federal land to anyone who wished to claim it, including women, immigrants, and freed slaves, requiring in return only a small fee and the commitment to live on the land for 5 years. This act was influential: “eventually, 1.6 million individual claims would be approved; nearly ten percent of all government held property for a total of 420,000 square miles of territory” ( The Homestead Act ended in 1976, except in Alaska, where it continued ten more years after that.

The act was only marginally successful in accomplishing its original purpose: for the land to be used for agriculture. Many land claimants lacked the experience and/or resources to successfully farm the land. In practice, the act was used to manipulate ownership of valuable resources, such as water or mining areas.

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The Homestead Act of 1862 was passed to encourage people to move to lands west of the Mississippi River. This law gave a family 160 acres of land for free, except for paying a filing fee, if they would live on the land and farm it for five years. Most people believed this land was part of a barren wasteland, which had discouraged previous settlement of these areas. However, the government, with this offer of free land, believed that it could help settle the West. By 1900, over 80 million acres of land was given to people as a result of this law.

As people moved westward, businesses began to grow and to expand. New machines, such as the steel-tipped plow, were used to help plow the tough sod found in the Great Plains. People wanted products that they used to get before they moved, which encouraged businesses to spread to the West. The railroads also expanded to help facilitate the movement of products and the movement of people to these western regions. The result of all of these actions helped contribute to a growing and a prosperous economy.

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One such act was the Pacific Railway Act, passed in 1862. This act promoted westward expansion by providing enormous swaths of land to two companies--the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific--to construct a railroad that connected Omaha, Nebraska to the west coast. This act had been long in coming, but several schemes to construct such a railroad had floundered amid the sectional tensions of the period. The West is often imagined as a space where individuals could escape the strictures of the East, and it was, but the reality is that the federal government played a major role in its settlement. In this case, the dangers and expenses inherent with constructing railroads through mountain ranges and across lands occupied by Native Americans were so high that federal assistance was viewed as absolutely necessary. Once the transcontinental railroad was complete in 1869, a pattern was set for railroad construction in the West. Railroad companies received massive land grants, which they not only used for the construction of railroads, but also sold for timber, mineral, and other resources. This also fostered the formation of railroad monopolies, which took advantage of local farmers in the West through setting high rates and other practices. But the setting aside of land for railroad construction, along with the Homestead Act, which guaranteed federal land to farmers for settlement, was perhaps the single most important government act that promoted westward expansion.

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