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The Third Amendment to the United States Constitution was added to the Bill of Rights by the Founding Fathers to protect American citizens from being forced to house and feed federal troops against their will. The Third Amendment reads like this:
"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 law was extremely important to our Founding Fathers, but it is not so well known to modern Americans. America's Founders had just experienced the quartering of troops on their private property by the British government during the Revolutionary War and before.
The Third Amendment says that troops cannot be quartered on private property at all during peacetime, and only as prescribed by law during wartime.
By the way, in case you aren't sure what "quartering" means, it means that the government cannot "quarter" troops in your home or on your land. A modern word that we use to say the same thing would be "housing." The government cannot "house" or "quarter" soldiers on your property. The word is used in the way that we today would call someone's room his "quarters." Got it?
Americans' experience with the quartering of troops in their homes began shortly after the French and Indian War ended in 1763. The British Parliament decided it was necessary to keep a permanent supply of troops in the colonies in order to protect them from further uprisings of the French and Indians.
This rankled the colonists in two ways. First of all, Parliament wanted them to pay the expenses of housing the troops in America. This violated the precedents of English law that required that all taxation must be with the consent of the people. The colonists reasoned that they had not given their consent to pay for these troops and that, therefore, the requirement that they pay for them was against the law.
Secondly, English law forbade the presence of a standing army without the consent of the people, in preference to a citizen army. Standing armies were viewed as threats to freedom because they could quickly and easily overpower the common person. So, the colonists rightly viewed the presence of a standing army in their midst without their consent as a threat to their freedom. Both of these rights, freedom from taxation without consent and freedom from standing armies without consent, were guaranteed to English citizens in English law since the English Bill of Rights of 1689.
The first Quartering Act was enacted on May 15, 1765. It required that British soldiers be housed in American barracks and public inns first, but if there was not enough room in these, that other buildings belonging to the citizenry such as stables, alehouses, barns and uninhabited buildings should be used.
The Quartering Act required that the citizens who owned the properties must pay for the food for these troops and also stated that the citizens would not receive any compensation for the use of their property. You can read the Quartering Act of 1765 here.
The colonists generally refused to cooperate with the Quartering Act. The resistance was strongest in New York. Violence broke out in August, 1766 between British troops and the colonists over New York's refusal to pay for the quartering of troops. Parliament suspended the governor and the provincial assembly over this issue. Eventually, the Quartering Act expired in 1770 and was not renewed. It never was successful in its intent to cover the expenses of keeping British troops permanently in America.
On June 2, 1774, an additional Quartering Act was passed by Parliament that was part of a series of acts called the Intolerable Acts by the colonists. This act gave colonial Royal governors the right to house troops on private property (though not in occupied homes), if enough public property was not available. The colonists rejected the use of their private property without their consent, but, of all the Intolerable Acts, this one generated the least dissent. This Quartering Act expired on March 24, 1776. You can read the Quartering Act of 1774 here.
The quartering of troops on private property is one of the grievances of the colonists specifically mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. The section that mentions it reads like this:
"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation... For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us."
Read more about how Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence here.
As a result of this experience with having their private property used by the government without their permission, the Founding Fathers wanted a guarantee that they would be protected from this abuse in the future by the new government they were creating.
Many people were skeptical that the new Constitution adequately protected their rights and they demanded that a Bill of Rights be added to it. A bill of rights is a list of rights that are specifically mentioned that the government has no right to interfere with. Bills of rights were added to make the rights of the citizens very clear, so there would be no room for government officials to "weasel" their way into tampering with them.
Once the states began to debate the newly proposed Constitution, it became apparent that the Constitution would not pass without changing the minds of its critics. Proponents of the Constitution were called Federalists. They wanted a stronger central government because the current government, governed by the Articles of Confederation, could barely function. The Federalists were led by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and George Washington.
The anti-Federalists opposed the Constitution. They were against a strong federal or central government because they feared the government would grow too powerful and take away the rights of the people. Men such as Patrick Henry, George Mason and Elbridge Gerry were leading anti-Federalists.
The Federalists came up with a compromise offer known as the Massachusetts Compromise, that would eventually persuade enough anti-Federalists to vote to support the Constitution so it could go into effect. In the Massachusetts Compromise, the Federalists promised that the First Congress would take into consideration the states' proposed amendments and add a bill of rights to the Constitution if the opponents would just vote yes to accept it. This promise persuaded enough of the critics to vote yes to accept the Constitution and it became the law of the land.
Keeping the promise, James Madison proposed a list of twenty amendments to the First Congress in a June 8, 1789 speech. Congress debated these amendments and eventually sent twelve of them to the states for their consideration. Ten of them were agreed upon by the states.
These first ten Amendments that were agreed upon, including the 3rd Amendment, finally became law on December 15, 1791 and are known as the Bill of Rights. You can read more about the History of the Bill of Rights here.
The Third Amendment is one of the least cited parts of the Constitution in legal cases. It has never been addressed by the Supreme Court in over 200 years, but it has been referred to by the Court a few times. The reason it has been cited so few times is that there have been so few wars fought on American territory, especially since the Civil War. Another reason is that the American army now has substantial military bases to house its soldiers.
The only significant case involving the Third Amendment to be addressed by any court was called Engblom vs. Carey, which was decided in 1982. In this case, several New York corrections officials were evicted from their homes on the prison grounds during a strike. National Guard members were brought in to act as prison guards during the strike and some of them were housed in the homes of the missing officials.
The officials sued claiming that the Third Amendment protected them from having military personnel living in their homes. The state's position was that the officials did not own the homes so they were not the private property of these officials and, consequently, the Third Amendment could not be applied to them.
The officials lost their case originally on the grounds that they were not the owners of the homes, but on appeal, the 2nd Circuit Court agreed with them that their Third Amendment rights had been violated, saying that they had a reasonable right to call the prison property their own since they were the current occupants and controllers of the property.
If you would like to do a more in depth study on the 3rd Amendment, check out this article by Tom W. Bell. It is quite lengthy, but very thorough - The Third Amendment: Forgotten but Not Gone.
Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Learn about the 1st Amendment here.
Learn about the 2nd Amendment here.
Learn about the 3rd Amendment here.
Learn about the 4th Amendment here.
Learn about the 5th Amendment here.
Learn about the 6th Amendment here.
Learn about the 7th Amendment here.
Learn about the 8th Amendment here.
Learn about the 9th Amendment here.
Learn about the 10th Amendment here.
Learn more about the Bill of Rights with the following articles:
Last updated 8/7/12