Vote the Land Free Token & The Homestead Act

Historically, numismatic researchers such as Rulau, Brunk, and others have directly attributed the VOTE THE LAND / FREE token to the Free Soil Party, which was a political movement that believed in the precondition that all new states admitted into the Union should be entirely free, and that slavery would not be allowed within the “soil” of each new state.

David Bowers, however, pursued research into these counterstamped coins, and has shed doubt as to this accepted theory of the stamps. Rather, Bowers proposes that the National Reform Association, a political movement involved in the 1844 presidential election, was the genesis of these curious tokens.

National Reform Association - Young America! Agrarian League
19th Century Young America Banner

Given the era, and the various political movements of the time, Bowers theorizes that the National Reform Association was a better candidate as the source for the tokens, as the counterstamp better fits the slogans used by this movement. Bowers further hypothesizes that the counterstamp coins were probably struck in the springtime of 1844, shortly after the convening of the Association’s March conference.

In 1844 George Henry Evans, a radical activist who was previously associated with the Workingmen’s Party of 1828, founded the Agrarian League. Formed in New York City, Evans and his associates focused their organization on labor movements and land reform.

The following year, the Agrarian League renamed itself as the National Reform Association, and formed an alliance with the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, in turn, leveraged its existing newspaper, Young America!, to promote the alliance.

George Henry Evans, National Reform Association
George Henry Evans

In Evan’s view, capitalist speculators had acquired most of the desirable frontier lands in the expanding western United States, and resultantly, had left very little for the average citizen to acquire.

Upset with the belief that there was a growing disparity between the wealthy and the average working American, Evans and other activists sought to reignite old Jeffersonian ideas of self-sufficiency and self-determination through agrarianism. They reckoned that society would be better if farm ownership was made more easily attainable to the average American.

To that effort, Evans printed numerous newspapers and pamphlets devoted to the organization’s causes. Titles of his periodicals included “Working Man’s Advocate,” “The Radical,” “The People’s Rights,” and “Young America!” All were quite controversial for their time.

Despite the controversy, for a while Evans’ group grew in popularity. However, by the mid-1840s its popularity quickly waned. Despite the goals his organization, the U.S. never transitioned to the “utopian” society envisioned by its proponents. Indeed, most of the organization’s membership dropped-out and joined the Free Soil Party.

Vote The Land Free Counterstamp Punch
Image Courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society

That said, Evans’ efforts were not entirely in vain. Whereby when Evans began his crusade, he had only the support of a few New York friends and a handful of city newspapers. But by 1850, the number of newspapers in the U.S. had grown to over 2,000, and as many as one-third had grown to support the few practical aspects of Evans’ land reform movement.

In 1862, a homestead law was enacted by Congress. It enabled all citizens, either the head of a family or twenty-one years of age, the ability to acquire a tract of federal public land.

As a condition for acquiring title, the tract could be no more than 160 acres. Homesteaders were required to settle and live on the land for a period of no less than 14 months.

Numismatic Discussion

Given the era, and the various political movements of the time, Bowers theorizes that the National Reform Association is a better candidate as the source for the tokens, as the counterstamp better fits the slogans used by this movement. Bowers further hypothesizes that the counterstamps were probably struck in the springtime of 1844, shortly after the convening of the Association’s March conference.

In conducting his research, Bowers assembled a census of known and listed VOTE THE LAND / FREE tokens. The outcome of his census is the illustrated in the following:

Population Census Vote the Land Free

After compiling the census, Bowers contacted Rulau and Brunk. It was discovered that neither Brunk nor Rulau had actually seen any post-1844 specimens first-hand or in photographs. Thus it’s speculated that if indeed such post-1844 specimens exist, they likely were counterstamped casually, and not struck as part of the NRA’s active campaign efforts.

Conclusion

Given the census and distribution of known and verified specimens, I’m inclined to agree with Bower’s theory because the Free Soil Party movement became active for the 1848 and 1852 presidential elections; not earlier. If the tokens had been struck for those elections, there would be more extant specimens dated >1844. The bar chart below illustrates this succinctly.

Shaded Examples Prior to 1845

Numismatic Specimens

Below is a VOTE THE LAND / FREE counterstamped large cent. The specimen is catalogued as HT-833, and its counterstamp grade is at least Very Fine. It’s listed with a Rarity Rating of R-6.

VOTE THE LAND FREE Token HT-833 Large Cent National Reform Association 1842

It should be noted that the ‘Vote The Land Free’ token is a very popular and sought-after token. Because of this demand, unscrupulous counterfeiters have reproduced these tokens as a means to profit from their popularity.

Counterstamp Overlay Comparison
Counterstamp Punch Overlay Verifying Authenticity of Counterstamp

Normal procedure when examining a counterstamped specimen is to verify that indeed it is genuine. The following animation compares this specimen to an authentically verified token.

By carefully comparing the placement, alignment, rotation, typeface, and lettering size of both counterstamps, one can determine a specimen’s genuineness. (The original devices of the token play little role in the comparison.)

Clearly the sample and control specimen agree, and thus the specimen is genuine.

Aaron Packard [End Mark]


Notes and Sources

  1. Vote The Land Free,’ David Bowers, The E-Sylum, April 15, 2001, ©2001
  2. Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 4th Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
  3. Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins, 2nd Edition, Gregory C. Brunk, World Exonumia Press, ©2003
  4. U.S. National Archives
  5. 2007 Long Beach, CA Signature Coin Auction #430, Heritage Auctions, Hammer Price $103.50
Aaron Packard

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