U.S. policy that allowed the first settlers, or squatters, on public land to buy the land they had improved. Since improved land, coveted by speculators, was often priced too high for squatters to buy at auction, temporary preemptive laws allowed them to acquire it without bidding. The Pre-Emption Act (1841) gave squatters the right to buy 160 acres at $1.25 per acre before the land was auctioned. The Homestead Act (1862) made preemption an accepted part of U.S. land policy. See alsoHomestead Movement.