by Dr. William J. Reid III
Amendment III: “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.”
It is probably hard for the average American of the 21st century to relate to the cause or appreciate the need of the Third Amendment of the “Bill of Rights.” Most might feel that this amendment is simply outdated and unneeded in today’s “advanced” society. It was obviously of prime concern, however, to the Colonists who wrote it since they enumerated their right to be secure in their homes immediately after those of the free dissemination of information and self defense.
This amendment was in direct response to two acts perpetrated by George III: first, the quartering act of 1765 which required each colony to materially sustain any British soldiers located within its jurisdiction, and secondly, one of the infamous “intolerable acts,” the quartering act of 1774, which stationed British troops in occupied homes.
In fact, the Declaration of Independence stated that “The History of the present King of Great Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations” such as “…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…”
These cases, however, were certainly not the first time that a Monarch of England had violated the hearths and homes of his subjects by defiling them with his troops. In reality, quartering of the king’s troops had been a problem well before French and Indian War during the middle of the 18th century. Carmon Hardy states in his “A Free People’s Intolerable Grievance” found in “The Bill of Rights, A Lively Heritage,” that these abuses had taken place in the American Colonies of Connecticut and Massachusetts in the 1670’s and New York in the 1680’s. Quartering was also recorded from the West Indies all the way to Nova Scotia during the end of the same century.
In fact, just as the First Amendment can trace its origins at least back to England and the bonfires of “Bloody Mary,” the necessity for the Third Amendment can easily be traced back hundreds of years earlier to Great Britain.
During the Restoration of the Roman Catholic absolutist Charles II, a quartering act was passed in 1663 against Scottish Covenanters who had signed the “National Covenant of 1638” and the Solemn “League and Covenant of 1643” promising to uphold the Reformed Faith in the name of Christ. Charles had Royal Highland troops stationed in “ousted” Lowland ministers’ (those not following the new state-mandated religious practices) home to insure that they not preach their Reformed message in homes or in open-air “conventicles” in some remote Scottish moor.
The Scots-Irish Presbyterian Preachers who were shouting “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!” had progenitors who had covenanted themselves together in Scotland against Papist kings and their intolerant, absolutist dictates. Many of these Reformed ministers-those who had not been hanged, drowned, or incinerated for preaching in open air Protestant services-had had Loyalist Highland troops quartered in their modest homes or about their shires. Edwin Moore relates a story from James Nisbet’s “The Private Life of the Persecuted” an ironic example of what it was like to have troops present about them in their town:
“In the year 1678…there was a great host of Highlanders came down in the middle of the winter to the western shires of Scotland…where they pillaged, plundered, thieved, and robbed night and day; even the Lord’s day they regarded as little as any other…[T]wenty of them came to the house; but [my father] not being at home, they told they were come to take the whig and his arms. They plundered his house, as they did the house of every other man who would not conform to the then laws; and such was their thievish disposition, and so well acquaint were they with the second-sight, that let people hide their goods…yet [they] would go as right to where is was hid…dig it up, and away with it, rejoicing as though it had been their own. From this I remark-that though four of us children were so cowed and terrified with their mighty searches, unruliness, and barbarous inhumanity, that we choosed [sic] for two months time to lie all night in the open fields to shun them; yet it pleased the Lord of his great mercy not one of us contracted any hurtful cold…though it was the depth of winter. Though when they left that country, they drove away many black cattle and sheep, as also many good horses, with household furniture and provisions…sparing neither conformist nor nonconformist; and yet before a twelvemonth was over, they were much poorer than when they came to the west country; for I saw some of them come begging the next year, and heard them often say in their broken English, ‘you Lowland folk are better than our folk, for God hath cursed us and all that we had, because we took your gear from you.’ Upon which I cannot but observe what is written: Ps ix:16 “God is known by the judgments which he executes.”
So it should be no surprise that the grandsons of these Covenanters would become the very men that were most vocal against the new king’s affront to freedom. In fact these Ulster Scot Presbyterians of the Middle and Southern Colonies, along with the Puritans separatists of New England, was the group of “rebels” most responsible for initiation and the triumph of the resulting civil war of 1776.
The Tory Joseph Galloway stated in writing that the Revolution was primarily a religious clash caused by Congregationalists and Presbyterians; a German mercenary in America wrote home that the “American Rebellion [was] nothing more or less than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion.” and Britain’s prime minister announced after the war that “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson.”
The historian George Bancroft remarked that “the revolution of 1776, so far as it was affected by religion, was a Presbyterian measure. It was the natural principles which the Presbyterianism of the Old World planted in her sons, the Presbyterians of Ulster.” In fact George Washington was so impressed with the ideals and determination of these men that he declared “If defeated everywhere else, I will make my last stand for liberty among the Scotch-Irish…”
No, it was no accident that over a fifth of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and members of the Constitutional Convention were Scots-Irish. They and their ancestors had endured imprisonment, exile, and execution, Test Acts, Corporation Acts, and Quartering Acts. And as a result of hundreds of years of abuse, they would insist that their new government’s constitution enumerate specific limits on that government so that these violations and indignities should never happen again.
But could these types of abuses ever happen again in our country? Most Americans today would find it unthinkable that Unites States military personnel would ever be quartered in their homes. In fact, until the events in Waco (and maybe even after), most Americans thought that the Posse Comitatus Act would prevent troops from ever even being used against American citizens, much less quartered in their homes.
Certainly technology has most likely rendered the actual quartering of troops to an anachronism. But what are the actual tribulations with the quartering of soldiers? Certainly privacy and inconvenience are obvious; and the financial ramifications must also be considered.
Today, thanks to the mature field of semiconductor physics, privacy can be taken from a person in their “castle” without a human being ever crossing their threshold. In fact, putting “warm bodies” in a home today is simply impractical when electronic devices are so much more efficient and effective. And if actual humans are needed, 21st century technology allows for their introduction from miles away within minutes of an “anonymous tip.”
Furthermore, leaders today don’t need to offset the cost of their armies by requiring the occupied to support the occupiers; the occupied today pay exorbitant taxes in order to support their standing armies.
Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from the Third Amendment is just how nefarious a totalitarian state can be as it struggles to control its “human resources.” Quartering Acts proclamations may be purely an English innovation of Stewart and Hanoverian Kings, but megalomaniacs such as Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and Hussein have all employed the tactic of “house arrest” through military occupation of its citizenry’s dwellings.
And maybe the question is not whether American citizens must fear a resurgence of Quartering Acts or not, but whether or not the laws and practices today are just as despicable.
The Quartering Act
British Parliament – 1774
An act for the better providing suitable quarters for officers and soldiers in his Majesty’s service in North America.
WHEREAS doubts have been entertained, whether troops can be quartered otherwise than in barracks, in case barracks have been provided sufficient for the quartering of all officers and soldiers within any town, township, city, district, or place, within his Majesty’s dominions in North America: And whereas it may frequently happen, from the situation of such barracks, that, if troops should be quartered therein, they would not be stationed where their presence may be necessary and required: be it therefore enacted by the King’s most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, That, in such cases, it shall and may be lawful for the persons who now are, or may be hereafter, authorised be law, in any of the provinces within his Majesty’s dominions in North America, and they are hereby respectively authorised, impowered, and directed, on the requisition of the officer who, for the time being, has the command of his Majesty’s forces in North America, to cause any officers or soldiers in his Majesty’s service to be quartered and billetted in such manner as is now directed by law, where no barracks are provided by the colonies.
II. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if it shall happen at any time that any officers or soldiers in his Majesty’s service shall remain within any of the said colonies without quarters, for the space of twenty-four hours after such quarters shall have been demanded, it shall and may be lawful for the governor of the province to order and direct such and so many uninhabited houses, out-houses, barns, or other buildings, as he shall think necessary to be taken, (making a reasonable allowance for the same), and make fit for the reception of such officers and soldiers, and to put and quarter such officers and soldiers therein, for such time as he shall think proper.
III. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That this act, and every thing herein contained, shall continue and be in force, in all his Majesty’s dominions in North America, until the twenty-fourth day of March, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-six.
In recent years and months there have been many examples of the homes of citizens being “taken over” by one government agency or another. The stories found in the following links will demonstrate this ill treatment of the Third Amendment and the People it was written to protect.
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Dr. Reid is Visiting Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Clemson University. This article is used by permission.