A land grant is a gift of real estate—land or its use privileges—made by a government or other authority as an incentive, means of enabling works, or as a reward for services to an individual, especially in return for military service. Grants of land are also awarded to individuals and companies as incentives to develop unused land in relatively unpopulated countries; the process of awarding land grants are not limited to the countries named below. The United States historically gave out numerous land grants as Homesteads to individuals desiring to prove a farm. The American Industrial Revolution was guided by many supportive acts of legislatures (for example, the Main Line of Public Works legislation of 1863) promoting commerce or transportation infrastructure development by private companies, such as the Cumberland Road turnpike, the Lehigh Canal, the Schuylkill Canal and the many railroads that tied the young United States together.
Roman soldiers were given pensions (praemia) at the end of their service including cash or land. Augustus fixed the amount in 5 AD at 3,000 denarii and by the time of Caracalla it had risen to 5,000 denarii. One denarius was roughly equivalent to a day's wages for an unskilled laborer.
In 1788 the British claimed all of eastern Australia as its own, and formed the colony of New South Wales in Australia. The land was claimed as crown land. Over time, it granted land to officers and released convicts. Males were allowed 30 acres (12 ha), plus 20 acres (8.1 ha) if they were married, and 10 acres (4 ha) additional per child. Instructions were issued on 20 August 1789 that non-commissioned marine officers were to be entitled to 100 acres (40 ha) additional and privates to 50 acres (20 ha) additional.
Governor Macquarie canceled land grants issued during the Rum Rebellion of 1808–09, although some were later restored.
Land grants started to be phased out when private tendering was introduced, and stricter limits were placed on grants without purchase. The instructions to Governor Brisbane were issued on 17 July 1825. From 9 January 1831, all land was to be sold at public auction.
There were also significant land grants in the Swan River Colony (Western Australia), and in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) from 1803.
The Hudson's Bay Company was incorporated in 1670 with the grant of Rupert's Land by King Charles II of England; this vast territory was greater than one third the area of Canada today. Following the Rupert's Land Act in the British Parliament, Rupert's Land was sold in 1869 to the newly formed Canadian Government for the nominal sum of £300,000.
Land grants were an incentive for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The Plantations of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries involved the confiscation of some or all the land of Irish lords and its grant to settlers ("planters") from England or Scotland. The English Parliament's Adventurers' Act 1640 and Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 specifically entitled "Adventurers" who funded the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland to lands seized from the leaders of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the ensuing Confederacy.
In New Zealand two private railway companies were offered land grants to build a railway, though both were eventually taken over by the government and incorporated into the government-owned New Zealand Railways Department.
During England's colonization of the Americas, the English Crown gave land grants to encourage the foundation of overseas possessions in North America. King James I of England granted a royal charter to the Virginia Company of London, an English joint-stock company founded to colonize Virginia. Similar schemes were later used when royal charters were granted by the Crown to English proprietary colonies in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Some settlers were given land grants known as headrights, encouraging them to migrate to North America. Similar systems were used during the Dutch colonization of the Americas.
As English colonial law developed,[when?] headrights became patents and a patentee had to improve the land. Under this doctrine of planting and seeding, the patentee was required to cultivate one acre (4,000 m2) of land and build a small house on the property, otherwise the patent would revert to the government.
Further information: Land grants in New Mexico and Colorado
Between 1783 and 1821, Spain offered land grants to anyone who settled in their colonies of Florida and Louisiana. When the United States acquired that land by treaties, it agreed to honor all valid land grants. As a result, years of litigation ensued over the validity of many of the Spanish land grants.
Spain and Mexico used the same system of offering land grants along the Rio Grande River near the Texas/Mexico border. These grants were given to help colonization of the area, initially by the Spanish crown, and later by Mexican authorities[clarification needed] nationals, and strengthen frontier towns along the Texas border. During the Mexican period of California (and other portions of Mexican territories inherited from New Spain), the Mexican government granted individuals hundreds of ranchos or large tracts of land. The ranchos established land-use patterns that remain recognizable in the California of today. Controversy[clarification needed] over community land grant claims in New Mexico persist to this day.
Future President Thomas Jefferson crafted the Ordinance of 1784, which carved out ten prospective states west of the Appalachian Mountains and established the basis for the Public Land Survey System. The Land Ordinance of 1785 provided a method for settling that land and establishing government institutions, which became federal land policy until 1862. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established the Northwest Territory, pursuant to which homesteading settlers could buy land, and certain land was set aside for public schools and other purposes. The federal government acquired additional lands by treaties with various Native American tribes, such as the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, by which many eastern tribes agreed to settle across the Mississippi River. Revenues from public land purchases were a major source of funding for the federal government through the 19th century, along with tariff revenues, since the federal income tax was not established until the 20th century.
Starting with the American Revolutionary War, veterans often received land grants instead of backpay or other remuneration. Bounty-land warrants, often for 160 acres, were issued to veterans from 1775 to 1855, thus including veterans of the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican–American War, as well as various Indian wars. The land grants helped settle the Northwest Territory (and later smaller areas, such as the Indiana Territory, the Illinois Territory and the Wisconsin Territory) and as well as the Platte Purchase in Missouri. Eligibility for the warrants expanded over the years through new Congressional acts of 1842, 1850, 1852 and 1855 to the point where they could be sold or given to descendants. The warrant program was discontinued before the American Civil War.
During the 19th century, various states (or even smaller units), as well as the federal government, made extensive land grants to encourage internal improvements, usually to improve transportation, such as construction of bridges and canals. The Land Grant Act of 1850 provided for 3.75 million acres of land to the states to support railroad projects; by 1857 21 million acres of public lands were used for railroads in the Mississippi River valley, and the stage was set for more substantial Congressional subsidies to future railroads. Universities were also beneficiaries of land grants. All five of the transcontinental railroads in the United States were built using land grants.
The Morrill Land-Grant Acts of 1862 and 1890 provided for the establishment of land-grant colleges.
There is general agreement that the United States' federal policy of offering land grants had a positive impact on economic development in the 19th century.
Further information: Economic history of the United States § Land grants