A good example of this was the Homestead Act, another of the “free soil” planks adopted by the Republicans in the 1850s that soon began to wind its way into law in the Republican dominated Congress. Buchanan had vetoed the bill when Congress passed it, but Lincoln signed the act giving settlers title to 160 acres of free government land if they resided on and improved it for five years. This embodied the essence of Jeffersonianism and encouraged smaller government by moving land out of the hands of Washington bureaucrats and into the hands of farmers and businessmen. Although similar intentions toward “democracy” undergirded the Morrill Act of 1862, in reality this legislation expanded government rather than contracted it. Vermont Congressman Justin Morrill, succeeded at last in getting Congress to pass a measure giving every state that had remained in the Union 30,000 acres of federal land for every senator and congressman in its delegation. The states, then, were to sell the land and use the proceeds for the establishment of engineering, military, educational, and technical colleges. Had the war gone on, it is conceivable that such schools may have provided some trained engineers and soldiers, but the goal of the legislation was to provide some level of educational opportunity in those states lacking the colleges of the eastern seaboard, and modern America is peppered with “state universities” that owe their existence to the Morrill Act.
Lincoln and the Republicans indisputably caused government to grow—in some cases accelerating expansion that already was in place, and in other cases creating large new programs—but the North nevertheless understood that government was a guest, if not an unwelcome parasite, on a free society’s back. Extending liberty to slaves demanded some temporary curtailment of northerners’ freedoms, but for the most part those natural rights were quickly restored after the war. At any rate, rights were viewed as the purpose for which the Union fought. But in the Confederacy, the reality of civil and property rights abuses revealed early in the war that the rhetoric about states’ rights and constitutional protections was merely a convenient cover for the oppressive system of human chattel. Indeed, by 1865, it was clear to all but the most ardent Rebel that the government in Richmond would sacrifice all southern liberties on the altar of protection of slave property.