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.
Quartering (or billeting) is the practice of housing soldiers in homes or buildings intended for other purposes (such as town halls or courthouses). The Third Amendment prohibits the government from forcing anyone to quarter soldiers in any house during times of peace, although building owners may agree to quarter troops just as they might rent to any person.
The Third Amendment also bans forced quartering during times of war, unless a law specifically allowing wartime quartering is passed. By requiring a law to allow quartering, the amendment guarantees that only Congress, the legislative (law-making) body of the United States government, can pave the way for the quartering of troops, and then only during a war.
Since its adoption the Third Amendment has not been the subject of much controversy. Unlike the First and Second Amendments, for example, the Third Amendment has rarely been the subject of court cases, protests, or political debates.
Despite its quiet role in the history of the independent United States, the quartering of soldiers was one of the key issues leading to the American Revolutionary War (1775—83), in which the American colonies fought for independence from Great Britain.
Quartering, an Important Eighteenth-century Issue
Having soldiers living in one’s house may seem like a preposterous idea to twenty-first century people. U.S. soldiers, airmen, and sailors usually live on military bases, aboard ships, or in their own homes. In the years before the United States won its independence, however, the British government occasionally required Americans to lodge soldiers in private houses or buildings when the army did not have adequate barracks (military living quarters).
British troops in North America (called Redcoats, because of their bright red uniform jackets) were mostly soldiers from England, Scotland, and Ireland. These troops were often moved from one part of Great Britain’s American colonies to another depending on where they were needed. This constant movement would occasionally leave the soldiers without barracks or necessary supplies. At such times, the army could require local citizens to house soldiers or provide supplies.
But the British government was also known to have quartered soldiers in places where there were signs of unrest among the people. Having armed troops living among the people was seen as a way for the government to keep potential troublemakers in line. During these years, Britain required colonists to quarter troops for both reasons.
The Wild West and Wartime Quartering
The issue of quartering troops first arose in the North American colonies during the French and Indian War (1754–63). By the middle of the sixteenth century, most of the northeast and mid-west section of North America was under the control of Great Britain and France. (Spain still controlled territories in some western and southern parts of the continent.) The French and Indian War pitted the British against the French for domination of the continent. Several Native American tribes also fought on the side of France, which was considered friendlier to Native American interests than Britain.
Many people in Britain’s North American colonies welcomed the war. The colonists did not like having the French army in nearby Canada and in the territories just west of colonies. In fact, many colonists hoped to claim land in these largely unsettled territories controlled by France and Native Americans (see “A Revolutionary Training Ground” box).
During the war, the commander of the British Army in North America, Lord Loudoun, ordered colonists to quarter British troops when necessary. As a result, soldiers were housed in both public buildings and private houses when barracks were unavailable.
Loudoun’s orders did not require the British government to pay owners for the cost of quartering troops in their buildings. Instead, the responsibility was passed to the colonial legislatures (the law-making institutions of the individual colonies).
Colonial legislatures could only raise money by taxing colonists, which meant the cost of keeping British troops in American houses was actually being passed back to the colonists themselves. Though many Americans were glad to have the protection of the British troops, some were angered by the new policies. Americans had paid almost no taxes to Great Britain before and were not happy about paying, even indirectly, for the activities of the British army.
In the summer of 1756 major protests against the quartering orders took place in Albany, New York (a significant center of military operations during the war). In response to these protests, Loudoun sent a brigade of armed soldiers to the city and seized, among other buildings, a church for gunpowder storage. This use of private property for military purposes only increased the protesters’ anger.
British Need to Raise Taxes
By the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, Great Britain was deeply in debt. The British had spent enormous amounts of money ousting the French from North America and were determined to keep a large army on the continent to protect their new territories. Such permanent armies are called standing armies.
In 1765 the British Parliament (the legislative branch of the British government) passed two acts to help offset the cost of maintaining its forces in the North American colonies. The Stamp Act required that most paper goods, such as newspapers and legal documents, had to bear a tax stamp, which had to be purchased from the government. The Quartering Act—sometimes called the First Quartering Act—required colonial legislatures to pay the costs of housing British troops and to provide them with supplies. Though the act did not allow for quartering in people’s homes, many people resented any provision for quartering troops in time of peace.
Resistance to the Stamp Act
Not only were the colonists not used to paying taxes to Britain, many of them felt that Parliament had no right to tax the colonies since there were no colonial representatives in Parliament. This concept of “no taxation without representation” became one of the major issues in the colonies’s independence movement.
Colonists protested the Stamp Act in pamphlets and speeches and in organized demonstrations. There were also riots in which colonists attacked the homes of the men who were to be in charge of selling the stamps. Colonial outrage over the new tax forced the British to revoke the Stamp Act before it ever took effect.
The issue of a standing army
The decision to keep a standing army in the colonies was very unpopular with the colonists. Some saw the army’s presence during peacetime as a violation of the colonists’ rights as free people. (Even in England, citizens often argued against keeping a large army in times of peace.)
The colonies had already had their share of arguments with the British government, especially since King George III had come to power in 1760. The colonists felt that Parliament had become less responsive to their concerns during George’s reign and worried that the British army would be used to enforce British policies in the colonies.
The Quartering Act was passed to help offset the cost of maintaining these troops. But the British also hoped that housing troops among the colonists would quiet colonial protesters. Instead it had the opposite effect. Many colonists were outraged by the Quartering Act and feared that it would lead to martial law (rule by the military). This anger turned into open protest across the colonies.
In August of 1766 the New York legislative assembly refused to comply with the new laws. Under the threat of armed force the assembly eventually backed down and agreed to abide by the Quartering Act. But within the colonies the seed of revolution had been planted.
English Roots of Anti-Quartering Colonial Sentiment
Many of the rights colonists demanded in the colonies were rights that English citizens had already won. What bothered many Americans was not that Britain ruled the colonies but that it did not rule the colonies in the same way it ruled England.
In England laws prohibited the quartering of troops in private homes without the consent of the owner. In a 1603 court case known as Semayne’s Case, the English court found that “The house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defense against injury and violence, as for his repose.” It is believed that this quotation is the source of the saying “a man’s home is his castle.”
Statute regulates quartering
The English Bill of Rights also regulated quartering. Passed in Parliament in 1689, the statute outlined the nature of the English government. Among its provisions was a stipulation that prohibited the government from quartering troops in private homes. Though it did not ban quartering troops in other establishments, such as inns or warehouses, the English Bill of Rights required the government to pay rent to those whose property was used for lodging troops.
Benjamin Franklin defends American rights
The fact that English citizens were protected from the very billeting of soldiers that the colonists were being forced to endure infuriated Americans. Less than two months after the First Quartering Act went into effect, Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) wrote an essay in defense of American rights.
The essay was published in the English newspaper The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser on May 2, 1765. Franklin, who was an American representative to England at the time, wrote: “Let [the English], first try the effects of quartering soldiers on butchers, bakers, or other private houses [in England], and then transport the measure to America. … The people of England and America are the same; one King, and one law; and those who endeavour to promote a distinction, are truly enemies to both.”
Though some colonists were already talking about independence from Great Britain, Franklin’s call for equal treatment was based on the idea that the colonies were part of the British Empire and should be treated as such.
Parliament members support Franklin
Some members of Parliament, including William Pitt (1708–1778), agreed with Franklin. In 1766 Pitt argued: “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all forces of the Crown. It may be frail—its roof may shake—the wind may blow through it—the storm may enter—the rain may enter—but the King of England cannot enter—all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!” In this way, Pitt asserted that each man is in complete charge of the building he owns and no powerful person, not even a king, can presume to take occupancy of that building.
Pitt’s argument for freedom from government interference within all British subjects’ homes, however, did not sway Parliament to change its policies in the colonies.
Britain Continues Quartering Troops
Still desperate for money, the British passed the Townsend Acts (1767), which placed a duty (tax) on a number of goods that the Americans shipped into the colonies, including glass, paper, and tea. These duties raised some money for the government but barely put a dent in the cost of keeping an army in the colonies.
Great Britain began moving troops from expensive outposts in the western territories back to the populous cities in the East. This was done partially to save money. But after several years of American protests, Parliament was convinced that something had to be done to keep order in the colonies.
Soldiers in people’s homes
In 1768 the British sent several thousand troops to Boston, Massachusetts, the center of American protests and the site of some violent rioting. The troops were sent to the city to keep order and make sure the Townsend duties were paid on goods shipped into Boston Harbor.
The people of Massachusetts argued that the soldiers should stay in the barracks on Castle Island in Boston Harbor, where they had been housed in the past. The British force, however, was determined to make its presence felt in the city. British soldiers refused to stay on Castle Island. Instead they camped on the Boston Common, a public park in the middle of the city, and took lodging in the town hall and several other buildings (for which they did pay rent).
Despite the occupation of Boston, the Massachusetts council continued to openly defy the Quartering Act, refusing to supply or house the troops whenever possible. Tensions in the city led to regular clashes between Bostonians and the British troops.
British kill colonial protesters
On March 5, 1770, a group of British soldiers and a crowd of Boston residents engaged in a loud conflict. The crowd taunted the soldiers, yelling insults and hurling snowballs and rocks at them. The soldiers apparently felt threatened and fired into the unarmed crowd, killing five Americans (see “Crispus Attucks” box).
Colonists dubbed the incident the Boston Massacre, and the shootings became a rallying point for anti-British colonists. Dr. Joseph Warren, a resident of Boston at the time, wrote that such violence was to be expected “when the troops are informed that the intention of their being stationed in any city is to overawe [intimidate] the inhabitants.”
Writing about the Boston Massacre, John Adams (1735–1826), who became the second president of the United States, wrote that “on that night the foundation of American Independence was laid.” The soldiers accused of shooting the Americans were all found innocent or let go with a small punishment. But anger over the killings grew, and the British soon moved their troops out of Boston to Castle Island. Parliament also canceled most of the duties imposed by the Townsend Act. But a tax on tea was left in place to make it clear to Americans that Parliament still had the power to impose laws and levy taxes on the colonies.
The Boston Tea Party
In 1773 Parliament used its power to give the British merchant company known as the East India Company exclusive right to sell tea in America. This act also met with protest in the colonies. When three East India Company ships docked in Boston Harbor, a group of colonists thought to be led by pro-independence leader Samuel Adams (1722–1803), disguised themselves as Native Americans, boarded the ships, and threw the tea overboard.
This event, known familiarly as the “Boston Tea Party” was a turning point in the relationship between Great Britain and the American colonies. Angered by the rebellious act of vandalism, Parliament passed the Coercive Acts (1774), designed to punish Massachusetts. Among other things, the acts, which colonists called the “Intolerable Acts,” closed Boston Harbor (until the destroyed tea was paid for) and replaced the elected Massachusetts Council with a council appointed by the governor.
The “Intolerable Acts” also included a new Quartering Act that expanded the earlier Quartering Act to include quartering soldiers in private homes. General Thomas Gage, the commander of the British Army in America at the time, was also appointed governor of Massachusetts, which effectively put the state under military rule.
In response to these actions, the colonies formed the First Continental Congress, which included representatives from twelve of the American colonies. Meeting in October 1774, the Continental Congress agreed on a Declaration and Resolves. This document outlined the colonial stand on a number of issues. On the subject of quartering troops, the document declared that “the keeping of a standing army in these colonies, in times of peace, without the consent of the legislature of that colony, in which such army is kept, is against the law.”
Quartering and the Declaration of Independence
The American Revolutionary War began in 1775, less than a year after the Coercive Acts were passed. There were, of course, many reasons for the final outbreak of war between the colonies and Great Britain. But the quartering of troops played a large part in swaying American public opinion in favor of the fight for independence.
In the summer of 1776, a year after the fighting began, the Second Continental Congress, which had been formed to coordinate the colonial war effort, drew up the colonies’ formal Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.
The document was written in large part by Virginian Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). Completed on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence includes a list of American complaints against the government of King George III. In part, the document reads:
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations [overthrows of power] … He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislature … [and given his approval to Parliament’s] acts of pretended legislation: For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these States.
This passage highlights the fact that the quartering of troops was a key issue in the colonies’ call for independence. The reference to “Murders which they should commit” also shows that the Boston Massacre still burned in the colonists’ memory.
Resentment runs deep
Resentment of quartering was apparent in the colonies. When American forces found it necessary to quarter their own troops during the war with Great Britain, even those who supported the revolution complained. In a letter to Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814), a Massachusetts representative to the Continental Congress who later served as vice president of the United States, a citizen wrote that such quartering “without the direction of the legislature of the colony … is downright and intolerably wrong.”
Quartering and the Constitution
Though the Americans did not officially win their independence until 1783, the last major battle was fought and won by the colonists in 1781. The same year, the thirteen former colonies, now states, bound themselves together loosely under the provisions of the Articles of Confederation. But these articles allowed the states to keep most governmental powers making the new central government very weak.
Despite this arrangement, the state legislatures felt it necessary to guard against future quartering of troops by a central government. Delaware had drafted the Declaration of Rights and Fundamental Rules on September 11, 1776, as part of its state constitution. That document included the following stipulation: “That no Soldier ought to be quartered in any House in Time of Peace without the Consent of the Owner; and in Time of War in such Manner only as the Legislature shall direct.” The language of this document closely resembles the Third Amendment.
By the time the Articles of Confederation were in place, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire had incorporated similar language into their state constitutions (see Introduction).
Making the government stronger—but not too strong
By 1787 many people in the new country felt the need for a stronger central government, especially if the new states were going to interact with other countries from a position of strength. During the summer, delegates from twelve of the thirteen states gathered to discuss the creation of a new government. This Constitutional Convention resulted in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution (see Introduction ).
Adopted in 1788, the new constitutional government of the United States was established in 1789. Many people, however, felt that the Constitution—which lacked a bill of rights—gave the new government too much power. They worried that without such a bill of rights, the people were in danger of losing the very liberties they had fought so hard to win.
One of the concerns was that the constitution gave the new Congress (the legislative branch of the federal government) the power to raise a national army but did not restrict the practice of quartering troops in private homes. Virginian Patrick Henry (1736–1799), one of the strongest voices in support of adding a bill of rights to the Constitution, noted in 1788:
One of our first complaints, under the former [British] government, was the quartering of troops upon us. This was one of the principal reasons for dissolving the connection with Great Britain. [Under the new Constitution,] we may have troops in time of peace. They may be billeted in any manner—to tyrannize, oppress, and crush us.
Henry’s statement stressed how important the issue of quartering troops (also known as billeting) had been to the fight for independence and how important it remained.
Concerns over quartering and other issues led the states to almost immediately begin drafting amendments to the Constitution. These early amendments eventually became the Bill of Rights (see Introduction). Of the eight states that proposed initial amendments to the Constitution, five specifically called for a prohibition on the quartering of troops in people’s homes.
Third Amendment passes without a fight
James Madison (1751–1836), a Virginian who became the fourth president of the United States, wrote the proposal for a quartering amendment and submitted it to Congress on September 25, 1789. There was such general agreement among Americans against quartering that Madison’s proposal passed with little debate.
Some representatives did argue that the amendment should be even stronger. One suggestion was that the amendment simply say “No soldier shall be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner.” A majority of representatives voted against this alteration, however, because it did not make any allowances for wartime emergencies.
Passing through Congress unaltered, the amendment was ratified on December 15, 1791, by the three-fourths of the states required by the Constitution when Virginia became the eleventh of the fourteen states then in existence to ratify the amendment.
The Third Amendment Goes to Trial
Since becoming part of the Constitution, the Third Amendment has not been at the center of many debates. In 1965 Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas included the Third Amendment as part of a constitutional right to privacy in the opinion he wrote for the Court in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut. There is, however, no Supreme Court case that specifically involves the Third Amendment protection against quartering soldiers in peacetime.
Landlords and tenants in the lower courts
The Third Amendment has been highlighted in several lower federal court cases. Some legal experts consider the connection to the Third Amendment in these cases weak, but it is interesting to look at a couple of cases to see how different parties have interpreted the amendment.
Beyond the billeting issue.
In United States v. Valenzuela, a 1951 case in the California district court, Gus P. Valenzuela argued that the Third Amendment should protect him against being prosecuted by the government for violations of the Housing and Rent Control Act of 1947. Valenzuela argued that the Third Amendment prohibited any government interference with one’s home, including matters of rent collection.
The court dismissed the Third Amendment connection, but opponents of government authority have used Valenzuela’s interpretation to argue that the Third Amendment prohibits any government intrusion into private lives.
A more straightforward interpretation of the Third Amendment was put forth by the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Second Circuit in the 1982 case of Engblom v. Carey.
Marrianne Engblom and Charles Palmer were prison guards at the New York State Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in 1979 who lived in rented quarters on the grounds of the prison facility. When the prison guards went on strike in 1979, National Guard troops were sent to maintain order at the prison.
Engblom and Palmer were given notice and subsequently evicted from their quarters to make room for the National Guard troops. They then filed suit in court claiming that the soldiers had been quartered in their home without their consent. This argument interprets the words “in any house” to mean any building, regardless of whether it is the person’s primary home or whether the occupants are renters or owners.
The displaced guards lost their case, mainly because of the doctrine of qualified immunity, which protects government officials from liability unless they have violated clearly established constitutional or statutory rights. As the reviewing federal trial court judge noted: “The Second Circuit’s decision in 1982 was the first involving the literal application of the Third Amendment.” Because the Third Amendment claim was so novel, the federal district court and later the 2nd Circuit both ruled that the government officials were entitled to qualified immunity. There were no other significant Third Amendment court rulings in the next twenty-five years.
Quiet Child of the Revolutionary War
The Third Amendment has simply not played a major role in the courts or in the daily lives of Americans since the Revolutionary War, largely because no large-scale incidents of forced peacetime quartering have occurred in the United States.
Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1779–1845), writing his 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, summed up the issue well:
This provision speaks for itself. Its plain object is to secure the perfect enjoyment of that great right of the common law, that a man’s house shall be his own castle, privileged against all civil and military intrusions.
If the Third Amendment has only rarely been invoked since its adoption, its placement in the Bill of Rights nonetheless serves as a reminder of the Revolutionary generation’s strong belief that citizens should never be at the mercy of the military in times of peace or war. The amendment’s speedy adoption—after almost no debate—emphasizes just how thoroughly this ideal was embraced by an American public that had only recently won its independence from a great military power.
For More Information
Minks, Benton, and Louise Minks. The French and Indian War. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 1995.
Story, Joseph. Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851. Reprint, Clark, NJ: Lawbook Exchange, 2005.
Zall, P. M. Becoming American: Young People in the American Revolution. Hamden, CT: Linnet Books, 1993.
Bell, Tom W. “The Third Amendment: Forgotten but Not Gone.” William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal. 2 (1993): 117–50.
Fields, William Sutton. “The Third Amendment: Constitutional Protection From the Involuntary Quartering of Soldiers.” Military Law Review (Spring 1989): 195–211.
Fields, William S., and David T. Hardy. “The Third Amendment and the Issue of the Maintenance of Standing Armies: A Legal History.” American Journal of Legal History (October 1991): 393–431.
Petrey, Ann Marie C. “The Third Amendment’s Protection Against Unwanted Military Intrusion.” Brooklyn Law Review (Summer 1983): 857–870.
The U.S. Constitution Online. http://www.usconstitution.net (accessed July 21, 2007).
Bailyn, Bernard, ed. Debate on the Constitution: Federalist and Antifederalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification. New York: The Library of America, 1993.
Cushing, Harry Alonso, ed. The Writings of Samuel Adams, Volume I (1764–1769). New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904.
Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1998.
Franklin, Benjamin. Autobiography and Other Writings: Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Kenneth Silverman. New York: Penguin USA, 1986.
Holmes, Burnham. The American Heritage History of the Bill of Rights, Volume 3, The Third Amendment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1990.
Madison, James. Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. New York: W. W. Norton, 1987.
Bell, Tom W. “The Third Amendment: Forgotten but Not Gone.” William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal. 2 (1993): 117–50.