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Celebrating the Third Amendment

May 26, 2013

AP_Documents_BillofRightsIt seems as a liberty blogger I am always highlighting civil liberties being under attack. Today I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight one of the few Amendments from the Bill of Rights that does not come under constant attack: The Third Amendment. Here is the text of 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.

This Amendment is pretty straightforward: the government cannot force citizens to house soldiers. In today’s world this amendment almost seems silly, since it would be unlikely to happen. However in the past this was a very important amendment.


Before looking at why this amendment is still relevant it is worth looking at the history of the Third Amendment. Much of the information from below comes from the Bill of Rights Institute’s Americapedia.

Back in 1628 King Charles I disbanded Parliament so he could rule England on his own. Parliament understandably was not happy with this move. Sir Edward Coke presented the “Petition of Right” to King Charles I on behalf of Parliament and English citizens. At its core the Petition of Right drew upon the Magna Carta to remind the King that the rights of English citizens came from the rule of law, and not from the King. It’s worth noting that King Charles did accept the Petition of Rights. But, after he continued with the same unlawful behavior King Charles I was beheaded in 1649.

The relevant passage from the Petition of Right is:

VI. And whereas of late great companies of soldiers and mariners have been dispersed into divers counties of the realm, and the inhabitants against their wills have been compelled to receive them into their houses, and there to suffer them to sojourn against the laws and customs of this realm, and to the great grievance and vexation of the people.

English_Bill_of_Rights_of_1689Now to move forward in time just slightly. In 1689 the English Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament to limit the power of the crown. In order to rule King and Queen William and Mary of Orange had to accept the terms of the English Bill of Rights. Much of protections found later in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights can be traced directly back to this document. Included in the English Bill of Rights is the following grievance against King James the Second:

By raising and keeping a standing army within this kingdom in time of peace without consent of Parliament, and quartering soldiers contrary to law;

The wording of this grievance in the English Bill of Rights is very similar to the language used in the Third Amendment.

Us_declaration_independenceNow we move on to the new world. In 1765 England passed the Quartering Act. This act, among other things, required the colonists to pay for English troops to be quartered or to provide quarter in areas where barracks were not available. In 1774 the Quartering Act was amended to allow British Troops to be housed wherever they desired. This included private homes of citizens. No consent from homeowners was required.

This leads to one final important document relevant to the Bill of Rights Third Amendment  the Declaration of Independence (I hope most US citizens know this was signed in 1776). In the Indictment section of the Declaration there was one charge against Great Britain and the King relevant tot he Third Amendment:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us

The irony was not lost upon the signers of the Declaration of Independence that less than a century after the signing of the English Bill of Rights that the rights of citizens in the new land were being ignored.

Now that the history of the Third Amendment has been reviewed it is important to note that the US Supreme Court has never taken a case where the direct meaning of the amendment must be determined. (If only the same could be said about other civil rights.)

But that does not mean this Amendment is irrelevant in the modern world. The opposite is true in fact. The Third Amendment is often cited as one of the sources in the US Constitution that provides the right of privacy. An important case utilizing the right of privacy constitutional right is Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). In this decision includes the following text:

The Third Amendment, in its prohibition against the quartering of soldiers “in any house” in time of peace without the consent of the owner, is another facet of that privacy.

While the Third Amendment was not a major portion of the decision in this case; it was critical nonetheless in determining the importance of privacy and property rights for US Citizens.

Many arguments used by Second Amendment advocates involves the Third Amendment. The general theory being that the only way to prevent ones property from being unlawfully used by soldiers is to be armed and protect private property. Those believing this argument see the Second and Third Amendments as complementary.

Looking forward I do not expect the Supreme Court to make any decisions directly relating to the Third Amendment. Looking at the history of this Amendment it is quite difficult to see such situations arising that would require troops to take over private citizens homes for quartering. I do however look forward to the Third Amendments possible use as a defense in privacy and Second Amendment cases.

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