Throughout the 19th century, a movement among the American people and politicians began to take root. A system for educating the country's youth in agricultural sciences was an idea gaining popularity. The first federal introduction of this idea was in 1857, introduced by Representative Justin Smith Morrill. In 1859 Congress passed by the bill only to vetoed by President James Buchanan. Morrill again submitted the bill in 1861, which faced little opposition as southern states seceded. Finally on July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act.

True to any piece of congressional legislation, the Morrill Act was full of compromises. In order to get the vote of approval from eastern states, the amount of land given to the state was reflected by federal representatives. 30,000 acres per representative was to be awarded. By default this awarded a minimum of 90,000 acres to each state, two senators and one Representative.