Constitution Class: Third Amendment

At least this one’s not controversial.

The Third Amendment to the US Constitution, part of our ten-amendment “Bill of Rights,” is one of the most direct reflections of its times:

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.

Third Amendment to the US Constitution

This one’s pretty simple: leading up to the American Revolution, the British government had a nasty habit of seizing private individuals’ homes in which to house their troops. Usually officers; the rank-and-file were still typically pushed out to the barn, or field, or whatever.

People understandably did not like this.

Notably, the amendment does give Congress an “out” in times of war, suggesting that troops could be quartered in private homes, provided Congress passed a law prescribing how it was to proceed. For example, Congress might offer compensation, should that become necessary.

The Brits actually started in their own barracks, which were often insufficient. A 1765 Act forced the colonists to open taverns, inns, and other “public” spaces for quartering, and a 1774 sequel opened private homes. Now, this is actually an… interesting note about the American Revolution.

Quartering in private homes was one of the “Intolerable Acts” passed in 1774 after the Boston Tea Party. In theory, the colonists didn’t have an insurmountable problem with housing troops in their bars and hotels; it was private homes that got their goat.

But it was the law of the land.

Like many revolutions, the American Revolution started in part because the colonists—geographically far removed from their parent government—didn’t like a lot of the laws that their government was passing. And so they revolted. The colonists were, technically, guilty of sedition, insurrection, and treason, and the British government charged many of them with exactly those crimes.

But the Brits lost, so it’s all okay.

See, it’s actually fine to try and overthrow your government if you win. But if you’re not playing to win, you should probably expect your government to get ticked off and send in troops. If you don’t succeed with your rebellion, you’re a criminal. So, you know. Rebel with a plan.

But at least now, except in an all-out war, we can be assured that the US government won’t attempt to house those troops in our homes.

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