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Bill of Rights: Third

Amendment III: No Soldier shall, in times 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.

Interpreting the Third Amendment

The Third Amendment seems to have no direct constitutional relevance at present; indeed, not only is it the least litigated amendment in the Bill of Rights, but the Supreme Court has never decided a case on the basis of it.

The federal government today is not likely to ask people to house soldiers in their homes, even in time of war. Nevertheless, the amendment has some modern implications. It suggests the individual’s right of domestic privacy—that people are protected from governmental intrusion into their homes; and it is the only part of the Constitution that deals directly with the relationship between the rights of individuals and the military in both peace and war—rights that emphasize the importance of civilian control over the armed forces. Some legal scholars have even begun to argue that the amendment might be applied to the government’s response to terror attacks and natural disasters, and to issues involving eminent domain and the militarization of the police. 

When the amendment was written in the eighteenth century, Americans and Englishmen in general believed that the issue of quartering troops in private homes was of great and palpable significance. During the course of their history the English had developed a deep dislike of standing armies; they especially objected to the government’s compelling them to quarter soldiers in their homes.

Yet the English attitude was contradictory. At the same time as the English protested the quartering of troops in private homes, they were reluctant to house the soldiers in barracks separated from the civilian population. The English remained so suspicious of standing armies that they feared that concentrations of soldiers in barracks might pose military threats to the people’s liberties. Thus, the English concluded that if they had to have an army, it must be scattered among the populace and housed preferably in inns, alehouses, stables, and private homes. But as Parliament made clear in the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, the government could not billet troops in private homes without the consent of the owners. So the English fear of standing armies was inextricably connected to their fear of having soldiers quartered in their homes without their consent. Continue reading from The Constitution Center

The Third Amendment Was in Response to British Quartering Acts

Between 1754 and 1763, the British Empire sent tens of thousands of soldiers to its American colonies to fight the French and Indian War for control of the Ohio River valley. Afterward, many of these soldiers continued to live as a standing army in the 13 colonies. In 1765, the British Parliament passed a Quartering Act requiring the colonies to feed and house these soldiers.

“The colonists were to provide barracks for the soldiers, and if they were not available, the troops were to be billeted in inns, stables, and alehouses,” writes Gordon S. Wood, a professor of history emeritus at Brown University, for the National Constitution Center. “[I]f these were insufficient, the governors and councils of the provinces were authorized to use uninhabited houses, barns, and other buildings to lodge the soldiers.”

This act was unpopular in the colonies, especially after the 1770 Boston Massacre in which British troops fired on a crowd and killed five people. In response to growing unrest in the colonies, Parliament introduced an even more invasive Quartering Act in 1774 as part of the so-called “Intolerable” or “Coercive Acts.” 

This quartering was among the grievances Thomas Jefferson listed in the Declaration of Independence. Specifically, he accused King George III of keeping “among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the Consent or of our Legislatures,” and “quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us.” Continue reading from History Channel

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