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 citizens to house soldiers in their homes. 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 ideas behind this section of the Bill of Rights.
What Prompted the Third Amendment
While the British ruled over the colonies, they would regularly force America to provide shelter for their soldiers. Between 1754 and 1763, the British deployed tens of thousands of soldiers to fight in the American colonies during the French and Indian War.
After the war ended, these soldiers stayed in the colonies. Two years later, on March 24, 1765, the British Parliament passed the Quartering Act, which compelled the colonies to feed and house the troops. The colonies were to provide barracks for the soldiers – if these barracks weren’t big enough to shelter every soldier, other locations would have to be used, from stables to inns. If those buildings still weren’t large enough, officials would take, hire, or use “uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns or other buildings, as shall be necessary…”
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 generally true that individual Americans had to give their homes to the soldiers or provide supplies. The colonies objected to the cost because it was “taxation without representation,” as they didn’t have any representatives in Parliament. They also disliked soldiers living in the same areas as civilians, as it could lead to abuses.
New York refused to comply with the law, so Parliament passed the New York Restraining Act of 1767. This forbade the colony 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 argued with a mob of colonists and shot into the crowd, killing several Americans.
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.”
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.
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 helps prevent the government from overstepping its authority.