The Third Amendment: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
This little-known amendment centered on a very important matter to our Founding Fathers, that of the people being forced against their will to house and feed soldiers and bear the costs. While this matter may seem trivial to us today, it was viewed quite differently in 1776.
Requiring citizens to quarter British soldiers in private homes without the owner’s consent had been illegal in England since the English Bill of Rights was enacted in 1689. Since Parliament had never stationed large bodies of troops in America, it was never an issue here.
However, in 1754, at the onset of the French and Indian War, Lord Loudon, the commander of British forces in America, was faced with a lack of barracks for troops sent over to defend the colonies.
Accordingly, he forced owners of public and private houses to quarter his men but met with little resistance.
After the war ended in 1763, the Crown was concerned about defending North America from both the French, who retained a presence in the Caribbean, and the Spanish, with possessions including New Orleans and East and West Florida. Additionally, Parliament wanted to keep a tighter rein on their increasingly restless subjects. Consequently, for the first time, England decided to keep a standing army in America and based it in New York. To eliminate the cost to the Crown of housing and feeding these troops, Parliament passed the Quartering Act in 1765.
Contrary to popular belief, this law did not require citizens to house soldiers in their own homes. Instead, it specified the colonial governments must bear the costs of housing the soldiers in public spaces such as alehouses, inns, and livery stables if barrack space was not available.
The colonies saw this Act as an attempt by Parliament to get them to pay for a standing army they did not want and resisted its enforcement.
They questioned why a permanent army was needed after the war when one had not been required before it.
England tried to invoke the Act in the fall of 1768 when, following continued rebelliousness in Massachusetts, England sent a contingent of 2,000 soldiers to Boston. As in other colonies, the Massachusetts Council refused to supply housing or provide any funds for the army.
The army forced its way into Boston and set up one regiment on Boston Common and one in Faneuil Hall, a popular meeting place. Tensions arose between the soldiers and the local citizenry, culminating in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770 in which five civilians were killed. Following this incident, the British removed the army from Boston.
For three years, tempers seemed to settle down.
Then, in 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act which was highly unpopular in the colonies and things got noisier. On the night of December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty, a group of zealous Americans, dressed up as Indians and dumped an entire ship load of tea into Boston harbor, the now famous Boston Tea Party.
Britain failed to see the humor in these actions and imposed further restrictions on the American colonies. These acts, passed in 1774, were known in England as the Coercive Acts but dubbed the Intolerable Acts by the colonists.
Included in them was the second Quartering Act which went even further than the first Act by expanding the types of public spaces that could be used to house the army. That said, even the second Quartering Act did not permit the British to use private homes without the owner’s consent.
So strongly did our Forefathers object to the requirement to house soldiers, that it was cited in the Declaration of Independence as one of the grievances that forced the colonies to separate from the Mother country. WHY IT MATTERS So why should it matter to us today that “no soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner? If nothing else, this amendment is an affirmation of our right to privacy in our own homes and one more hedge against an over-reaching government. We should all appreciate that.
SUGGESTED READING “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation”, by Joseph Ellis, won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2001.
It is an excellent account of several of the leaders of early America and highly recommended.
PLACES TO VISIT Boston National Historical Park www.nps.gov/bost/ index.htm in downtown Boston includes the USS Constitution, the oldest warship in the US Navy, and a great Visitor’s center at Faneuil Hall.
Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country leads me.
Tom Hand is a West Point alumnus and a Ford Plantation resident. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, read his blog at americanacorner.com.