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George Evans liked to stir things up. And by "stir things up" we mean "stick it to The Man."
From 1829 to 1849, he edited and published at least five different radical newspapers focused on the rights of the workingman. He also supported women’s rights, abolition, and the end of business monopolies. Talk about a busy—and noble—dude.
By 1844, he’d gotten involved in politics, which is always dangerous, and had formed the National Reform Association, a lobby organization aimed at opening the West for settlement. Evans liked the picture of improving life for the urban worker by moving some people more inclined to farming out of the competition for jobs and housing.
Basically, the National Reform Association was a sharp stick poking Congress for free land for homesteaders. By the time 1862 rolled around, the Association had generated a lot of petitions from people that liked the idea of getting away from it all and homesteading in the West.
Way to apply that pressure, Georgie-boy.
If the government's supposed to reflect the voters’ interests, then the efforts of the National Reform Association probably explain the increasingly close calls with Johnson’s Homestead Act. The more people rallied to the call of "Free Land" and "Vote Yourself a Farm," the more Congress kind of had to listen.
Evans might even have been indirectly responsible for that whole "work the land for five years and it’s yours" thing. He was a firm believer in putting in the work to actually make something your own. He also made the somewhat educated guess that 160 acres was the minimum necessary to sustain a family. Now, where have we heard that number before? Oh right: here.
Evans died before seeing the Homestead Act enacted, but he was critical to its passage. Sure, Johnson did the work of drafting the Homestead Act, but never underestimate the power of the lobbyist.
Or of a dude who's mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.