The third amendment in the Bill of Rights is another short one, comprising only one sentence. It may not seem important today, but it was an extremely important amendment at the time it was written. Depending on circumstances, it could become important again in the future and is always there as a safeguard, just in case. While times may have changed since the amendment was written, the importance of the protection it provides has not.
So, what does the third amendment say?
The Third Amendment
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.
What Does This Mean?
Way back in the day, during the Revolutionary War, it was not at all uncommon for British soldiers to be housed in private homes. The thing was, the owners of these private homes were not asked whether or not they would consent to host a whole regiment of soldiers. The generals and other leaders of the regiments would simply march their troops up to a house in an area they planned on staying encamped in for a while, and order the occupants of the house, be they, owners or renters, to allow the soldiers inside. This was viewed by military officials as a better alternative than having their soldiers camp outside in tents.
The people who lived in the American colonies never knew when they would be ordered to take in soldiers—an act known as quartering (as in, they provide quarters for the soldiers). They may be Loyalists who supported the crown, or they may be supporters of the Revolution, but they had no choice about taking in soldiers—often a dozen or more of them. Sometimes, everyone on a street had soldiers in their houses.
When these private people were ordered to take in soldiers, they were expected to provide everything for them, including food, sleeping quarters, and other necessities. The people were not reimbursed for any of this, either. It all had to be done at their own expense. Soldiers often left family homes in shambles, as they did not respect the personal property of the home’s occupants. There were cases of sexual and physical assaults by soldiers against people who lived in these homes, as well. As you can imagine, being ordered to quarter soldiers was an unwelcome task for anyone, no matter what side of the Revolution they were on.
Some people simply abandoned their homes to the soldiers, knowing they could never afford to pay for the upkeep of all of them, or because they couldn’t bear living with these strangers in their house one moment longer. Therefore, the Founding Fathers wanted to make sure this never happened again. Quartering was a big complaint of the people during the Revolution.
The third amendment assures soldiers cannot be quartered in a private home in a time of peace without the consent of the homeowner or occupant. In times of war, this quartering can also not take place except by a method prescribed by law. This law would presumably be enacted at the time the quartering was deemed essential, and would likely include compensation to the homeowner or occupant. Thankfully, quartering has never been required since the Revolution. If it is, we have the third amendment to protect us from the abuses of it during the Revolution.