The Third Amendment states that “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 means that the government cannot force a citizen to house soldiers or other military staff in their home even in times of war. This amendment rarely comes up in American law today. Despite this, it is still important to remember why the Third Amendment was created and to understand the underlying philosophy of this section of the Bill of Rights.
What Prompted the Third Amendment
The Third Amendment was a response to the fact that while the British ruled over the colonies, they would regularly force America to provide shelter for soldiers. Between 1754 and 1763, the British deployed tens of thousands of soldiers in its American colonies during the French and Indian War to fight for control of the Ohio River valley.
After the war was concluded, these soldiers continued to live in the colonies. Two years later, on March 24, 1765, the British Parliament passed the Quartering Act, which compelled citizens living in the colonies to feed and house the combatants. The colonies were to provide barracks for the soldiers – if these barracks weren’t big enough to accommodate every soldier, other locations would have to be used, from stables to inns. If those buildings still weren’t large enough, a justice of the peace would take, hire, or use “uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns or other buildings, as shall be necessary, to quarter therein the residue of such officers and soldiers…”
It was also up to the colonies to provide the soldiers with supplies including vinegar, salt, drinks, fire, utensils, candles, and bedding.
Citizens in the colonies were not happy about the law. The anger at having to house and feed soldiers contributed to the attitudes that led to the War for Independence.
It wasn’t true that individual Americans were required to give their homes to the soldiers or provide supplies from their personal finances, but the colonies objected to the overall cost on the grounds that it was “taxation without representation,” as they didn’t have any representatives in Parliament. They also disliked that soldiers lived in the same areas as civilians, and the abuses that could cause.
New York refused to comply with the law, so Parliament passed the New York Restraining Act of 1767, which forbade the colony’s governor and assembly from passing any new bills until it agreed to obey the Quartering Act.
Tensions rose between the colonists and British troops with the Boston Massacre of 1770, when a group of soldiers in Massachusetts argued with a mob of colonists and shot into the crowd, killing several Americans.
The Quartering Act expired, but was updated a few years later in 1774, causing even more indignation.
Two years later, Thomas Jefferson listed this practice as one of the grievances in the Declaration of Independence, accusing King George II of keeping “among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the Consent or our Legislatures,” and “quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us.” The Declaration also noted that these soldiers were not properly subject to the law and that the king was “protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States.”
When Has The Amendment Been Used?
Since the Third Amendment was passed in 1791, the Supreme Court has only cited it on a few occasions. One instance occurred in 1952 when President Harry Truman issued an executive order to take control of the country’s steel mills during the Korean War. The court decided the president did not have the power to seize private property without an act from Congress.
The amendment has been used in a few other cases involving the National Guard and prison guards. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that members of the National Guard should be considered soldiers subject to the amendment.
While the Third Amendment is not used often, the spirit behind the law is important. Government should not have the power to compel citizens to give up their property or housing without consent. This amendment, like the others, is a layer of protection that prevents the government from overstepping its authority.