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As our nation’s Founders designed their plan for a more perfect union, they understood that the success of a modern republic would require more than a political document like the Constitution. From their study of history, the Founders had learned of the pitfalls of republics before this one. They concluded that even the Constitution alone could not curb individual selfishness. They believed that virtues were necessary for sustaining the American experiment. Their fervent prayers were an integral part of the birth of our nation.

This Week in History

HeritageMay 20, 1862 – Homestead Act Signed

By signing into law the Homestead Act, the United States was opened up to settlement in the west, allowing any American, including freed slaves, to put in a claim for up to 160 free acres of federal land. A small registration fee and living on the land continuously for five years was required. If the settler was willing to pay $1.25 an acre, he could obtain the land after only six months’ residence.

By the end of the Civil War, 15,000 homestead claims had been established and more followed in the post-war years. The Homestead Act remained in effect for more than 100 years. The final claim, for 80 acres in southeastern Alaska, was approved in 1988.

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.

    Presidential Quote of the Week

    PresidentialQouteChester A. Arthur (1829-1886), 21st President

    It has long been the pious custom of our people, with the closing of the year, to look back upon the blessings brought to them in the changing course of the seasons, and to return solemn thanks to the All-Giving Source from whom they flow. – Thanksgiving Day Proclamation 1881

    Chester Alan Arthur was born in October 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont, to an immigrant Irish preacher. He spent some of his childhood years living in Perry, New York. He went to prep school at the academy in Union Village in southern Washington County, New York, and then to the Lyceum. He attended Union College where he studied the classics and received a Master’s degree. He studied law in the State and National Law School in Balleston Spa, New York.

    During the Civil War, Arthur was appointed Inspector General of the State Militia. At the conclusion of the war he held the rank of brigadier general. President Grant appointed him as Collector of the Port of New York, but when Hayes became president, attempts to reform the Customs House ousted Arthur from that post. Many factions existed in his political party. Arthur saw the opportunity to take advantage of them, and entered the race for the presidency in 1860. He served a single term as president.

    President Arthur was married to Ellen “Nell” Lewis Herndon, and they had three children. He was often referred to as “Elegant Arthur” for his commitment to fashionable attire.

    After leaving the office of president, he returned to New York City to serve as counsel to his old law firm. He suffered from “Bight’s disease” and hypertension, which ultimately caused his demise. He is buried in the Arthur family plot in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, New York. President Arthur was an Episcopalian.