"In 1862, when Congress passed the celebrated "Homestead Act" that gave 160 free acres to any settler willing to live on the land for five years and develop it, it was only sanctioning what settlers had already done by themselves." (de Soto, H. (2000), The Mystery of Capital, Missing Lessons of US History, Basic Books, p. 147)
Regarding the interaction of freedom, politics, government, and the state, a number of facts related to the Homestead movement should be noted that are diametrically opposite to what many libertarians would claim.
Left to their own devices and faced with an old legal order (British common law) that refused to take account of the special situation in the New World, American settlers were seeking acceptance through the help of politicians and a state willing and capable of pulling them into a legality to be newly defined. Politicians, legislators and government authorities played a key role in accommodating the dire need of a legally recognised and secure new identity for millions of Americans.
Quite in keeping with the attitudes of the great thinkers of early liberalism, freedom in America was driven by a movement toward sensible laws and government. The free settlers fought ardently for it.
[The Homestead Act signified] the end of a long, exhausting, and bitter struggle between elitist law [British common law protecting the property of establishment's select few] and a new order brought about by massive migration and the needs of an open and sustainable society. (Ibid. p. 148)
What is still a woefully unfinished task in most countries of the Third World today, was accomplished in America by the second half of the 19th century thanks to an open political order capable of absorbing the demands of millions of Americans that were inhabiting a social reality insufficiently reflected in the country's incumbent legal base:
The recognition and integration of of extralegal property rights was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world. (p.148)
This was a huge and protracted political task, involving difficult conflicts. It took political, not economic activity alone, to gradually accommodate more and more of the needs of the new times. In this way:
The Americans gradually legitimized extralegal property norms and arrangements created by the poorest Americans and integrated them into the law of the land.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, information about property and the rules that governed it were dispersed, atomized, and unconnected. [...] [It was] related only to the local community and was not available within any consistent network of systematized representations. [...] American officials [...] when they constructed national laws such as the preemption and mining acts [...] were creating the representational forms that integrated all this loose and isolated property data into a new formal property system. (p. 148/149)
All the great attainments of American freedom, like the Constitution or the land's vital capitalist economy, have been brought about in significant and indispensable measure by non-market action, i.e. by political competition and negotiation. No one seriously looking at the phenomenon of freedom can overlook this fundamental fact, one would expect. However, many libertarians prefer to withdraw into a haze of figments about a world in which freedom is generated (historically and prospectively) by a happy absence of struggle and assertion of the political kind. In reality one has to fight for one's rights, fight to organise and maintain them, and always be prepared for the onslaught against and the revision of one's preferred world by others pursuing their own cause.
In passing laws to integrate the extralegal population, American politicians expressed the revolutionary idea that legal institutions can survive only if they respond to social needs. The American legal system obtained its energy because it built on the experience of the grass-roots Americans and the extralegal arrangements they created, while rejecting those English common law doctrines that had little relevance to problems unique to the United States.
In the long and arduous process of integrating extralegal property rights, American legislators and jurists created a new system much more conducive to a productive and dynamic market economy. This process constituted a revolution born out of the normative expectations of ordinary people, which the government developed into a systematized and professional formal structure. (p.150 - my emphasis)
In any advanced society, there is a division of labour - the more highly differentiated the freer society - that will sensibly encompass and structure a division of labour of consumers and producers of politics and social change. It is time that libertarians open their minds to comprehend this fundamental condition of freedom.