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.
Before the Revolutionary War it was illegal in England for soldiers to demand quarter from private citizens. Thanks to the Glorious Revolution of 1689, the government could not board troops in private homes without consent of the owners.
The colonies were excluded from this protection. In 1754, during the French and Indian War, Lord Loudoun was the commander-in-chief of the British Army in North America. He forced colonists to keep soldiers in inns and private homes, with the local officials appealing to colonial legislatures to secure reimbursement for the homeowners.
At the end of the French and Indian War Britain left a standing army in America. In 1768 the Massachusetts Council refused to quarter the soldiers in Boston.
The British Army rented stores, warehouses, and commercial buildings for the soldiers, and tensions ran high as the soldiers clashed with the colonists in occupied Boston.
The soldiers were there to defend newly acquired territory in Canada and Florida and to manage relations with Native Americans. They were also there to keep American colonists in line.
The Quartering Act
The Quartering Act of 1765 was part of the cycle of frustrating legislation including the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts that led to anger and rebellion on the part of colonists. Tension escalated as the hostilities led to the Boston Massacre and eventually the Boston Tea Party.
The Stamp Act
The Stamp Act of 1765 was enacted to pay for British troops stationed in the colonies during the Seven Years’ War. It was imposed by the government without the approval of the colonial legislatures and was to be paid in British sterling rather than the currency of the colonies.
Violators were to be tried in Vice-Admiralty Courts, without juries, held anywhere in the British Empire. Stamps representing taxes were to be applied to “every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper” for all documents.
It also taxed playing cards, dice, pamphlets, calendars, and numerous other printed items. The Stamp Act was abolished in 1766 under pressure from London merchants and resistant colonists.
The Townshend Acts
The Townshend Acts of 1767 were catalysts for the anger that led to the Boston Massacre. The British government was spending a great deal of money defending its colonies, and it wanted the colonists to help pay for the upkeep of the soldiers.
The Suspending Act mandated that the New York Assembly comply with the financial requirements of the Quartering Acts before it could conduct any other business.
The Revenue Act taxed lead, glass, paper, paint, and tea as they came into port to raise money for the British Treasury.
The third act, which did not have a nickname, added layers of bureaucracy to the colonial system in the form of officers, searchers, spies, and ships. It added search warrants, writs of assistance, and a Board of Customs Commissioners all to be funded with customs revenues.
The Indemnity Act lowered commercial duties on tea imported by the East India Company to England and then refunded the duties for tea exported to the colonies. This created an effective tea monopoly for the East India Company.
The Boston Massacre
On March 5, 1770 a crowd formed in front of the Customs House, throwing rocks and snowballs at the soldiers. Eventually the soldiers fired back, killing five people. This was the Boston Massacre.
On the same day, the Quartering Act of 1765 was repealed and the duties were cancelled on all products except tea.
The Tea Act
The Tea Act of 1773 was designed to reduce the excess inventory of Chinese tea held by the East India Company. The colonists were smuggling Dutch tea in order to make it clear that they would not pay the taxes imposed by the Townshend Acts.
The Tea Act allowed the East India Company to ship directly to America duty-free, thus removing the middleman and undercutting the price of smuggled tea. The tea in question was still subject to the taxation of the Townshend Acts.
The Boston Tea Party
In New York and Philadelphia the duty-free tea was turned back without unloading. In Boston, Governor Thomas did not allow the ships to leave port without unloading. He was part owner of the company hired by the East India Company to receive the tea in Boston.
On December 16, 1773, led by the Sons of Liberty, Americans dumped 342 chests of tea owned by the East India Company into Boston Harbor.
The Intolerable Acts
Britain responded in 1774 with the Coercive Acts, which Americans renamed the Intolerable Acts.
The Boston Port Act closed the port of Boston.
The Massachusetts Government Act revoked the royal charter of the colony, placing Massachusetts directly under British control.
The Administration of Justice Act moved trials of British officials to England.
Another Quartering Act, applied to all the colonies, gave the responsibility for finding quarter for soldiers to the royal governors rather than colonial legislatures.
These harsh measures were intended to display the power of Britain and warn the colonies to obey lest they suffer the same fate as Massachusetts. Instead it roused the sympathies of the other colonies, which responded by sending aid to the citizens of Boston whose livelihoods were cut off by the closing of Boston Harbor.
The First Continental Congress convened on September 5, 1774, in response to the Intolerable Acts.
How the Third Amendment Applies Today
You and I would be shocked if the government announced that four twenty-year-old men would be living with us and eating our food for the next six months. It might be enough to inspire us to rebel.
The Third Amendment to the Constitution is so well accepted that there has never been a Supreme Court Case about it. We can all agree that the government does not need your home to house its soldiers. But what else are we inviting into our homes today?
When you need to turn on the lights or play some music, do you do it yourself or ask Alexa to do it? Is Siri finding your route when you take a trip? Do you yell for Google when you want information about your favorite TV show?
Virtual assistants are now in virtually every home. They listen to every word, and they can have access to your camera, your contact list, your emails, your calendar, and your internet search history.
In August of 2019, Apple admitted that its workers had been listening to conversations with Siri for the purpose of improving the accuracy of its services. After hearing a few emergencies and criminal-sounding interactions, Apple decided there was a great deal of responsibility involved in listening.
Your internet activities are tracked with cookies. The US government was listening to international phone calls well before 911. The NSA knows where you are when you use your cell phone because it can track your location from the cell towers you use to make calls.
The camera on your phone states your location on photos by default, and when you post these photos to social media you are announcing your location to anyone who reads your post.
When I signed up for online paycheck deposits I had to provide private information as a means to ensure my identity. When I called for help to change a password that expired, they asked me questions based on information I had not shared. They knew the address of the first house I bought in 1996, the make of a car I owned in the 1990s, and information about my parents. This seemed like way too much access for the service I was requesting.
Uncle Sam is not currently trying to house soldiers in your home, but encroachments on your privacy are both subtle and pervasive, coming from every possible direction. With convenience comes surveillance. Be aware of what you are giving away.
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