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What Was the Quartering Act?

British troops
The Quartering Act was one of the Intolerable Acts.

The Quartering Act of 1774 was one of the Intolerable Acts, which were unjust laws that led to the Revolutionary War.

The Intolerable Acts had to do with taxes, trade, justice, and where soldiers were stationed. The Quartering Act was related to keeping British soldiers in colonial cities in peacetime.

In the 1760s, the number of British soldiers in colonial North America greatly increased. The French and Indian War required a large number of soldiers. 

After the war, not all British troops left, and many remained in the colonies. Many colonists were against this. They believed Great Britain should not keep a standing army in their colonies when they were not at war. 

Did the Quartering Act Require Civilians To Keep Soldiers in Their Homes?

It is a myth that the Quartering Act required civilians to keep soldiers in their private homes. It only required colonialists to provide lodging for soldiers, which was not supposed to be in private homes. The Quartering Act actually prohibited quartering troops in civilian homes. 

Old style kitchen
Civilians were not required to quarter troops in their private homes.

Possibly, people assume that the Quartering Act stationed soldiers in private homes because the Third Amendment forbids this in peacetime. The Third Amendment says that soldiers do not have access to private homes in peacetime except with the owner’s consent

Why Did People Oppose the Quartering Act?

Part of the problem with the Quartering Act was that the colonists had to provide for British troops at their own expense. The Quartering Act burdened colonists even without soldiers having access to private homes. The colonists had to pay to house the soldiers, not the British government. 

Colonial legislatures were required to pay to house the soldiers. They had to either build military barracks or use public houses, inns, or stables to quarter British forces. While it was seen as a necessary evil, the British parliament thought keeping soldiers in North America was justifiable. 

British redcoats
British redcoats.

Tensions Between Soldiers and Civilians

People in London believed that the act was necessary to protect the empire. They had passed similar coercive acts before, as they had colonies all over the globe and needed to provide for their soldiers. 

Soldiers often didn’t get along with townsfolk, especially not if they were housed too close to them. In Boston, city authorities tried to keep them in barracks far from the city’s center. However, military officers did not like their location and insisted on being closer to the city’s people. 

Fighting and Violence

Soldiers and civilians often got into quarrels and fights in Boston. Eventually, this led to far more serious violence. A group of soldiers fired at a group of civilians, killing five and wounding several more. 

The Boston Massacre was a key event in the lead up to the American Revolution.

This violent incident became known as the Boston Massacre, which made the city’s people furious and helped pave the way for the Revolutionary War. They rebelled against British authority. The people of Boston hated and resisted British control and taxation. 

The Boston Tea Party

The Boston Massacre led to one of the more famous acts of colonial rebellion. Angered by the British government, the colonists seized tons of tea from ships in the Boston harbor and threw it into the sea. 

Great Britain did not back down after the Boston Tea Party. Instead, they retaliated by passing four acts known as coercive or Intolerable Acts.

Boston harbor
Boston harbor.

The Intolerable Acts

The British government tried to bully the colonists into submission by restricting their rights. The first act was the Boston Port Act, which shut down the port completely. The government demanded that the people of Boston pay for the tea before the port was opened again. 

The second act, the Massachusetts Government Act, ended self-government in the colony. The people would be ruled directly from London instead of mostly governed by local representatives. 

Thirdly there was the Administration of Justice Act, which meant that the colonists could not put a British officer on trial. Any official arrested for a crime would have to be sent back to Britain for trial. 

The Quartering Act

The Quartering Act was the fourth and final punitive act. The act gave royal governors under King George III (as opposed to local governments) the authority to find buildings for British army troops to stay in. This angered the American colonists because it resembled a military occupation by a foreign power. 

British forces
The American colonists felt that a peacetime standing army resembled an occupying force.

Great Britain’s Rationale

The British hoped they could end the rebellion by seriously punishing Massachusetts to set an example for the other colonists. They believed that the rebellion could be stopped if they showed their strength. The British navy demonstrated Britain’s power by shutting down the port.

Reaction to the Act

The British failed to put down the rebellion and made people in other dominions more rebellious. Other colonists assumed that similar acts would be used against their states. This did not scare them into submission but made them rebel. 

It made people question whether King George III’s government was legitimate. The colonists increasingly debated what a just government was and whether the British government was just. It saw colonists demand a new form of government.

The First Continental Congress

The First Continental Congress was held in Philadelphia and was attended by representatives from 12 of the 13 colonies. They discussed what the reaction to the intolerable acts should be.

Independence Hall
The 1st Continental Congress was held at Carpenters’ Hall and the 2nd at Independence Hall (pictured).

Even in 1774, most colonists wanted to live under British government rule with more rights, not create an independent nation. Therefore, the reaction was fairly tame – they boycotted British goods and demanded that the intolerable acts be repealed.

However, the British government would not listen to them and did not respond. A few months later, there were battles near Boston, which were the beginning of the American Revolution. 

The Third Amendment 

The Quartering Act was referenced in the Declaration of Independence as one of the British crown’s injustices against the American colonists. 

Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

Following the American Revolution, the colonists set about devising a new form of government. They created a constitution and a bill of rights to protect the people from government injustice. 

The Third Amendment of the Bill of Rights prevents the government from enacting anything similar to the Quartering Act. It says no soldier can stay in a civilian home in peacetime without the owner’s agreement. In wartime, a soldier can only stay in a civilian home in “a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Has the Third Amendment Ever Been Used?

The Third Amendment has never been tested. The United States Supreme Court has never heard a Third Amendment case. The military does not attempt to station soldiers in civilian homes. 

Most likely, the Third Amendment would be enforced if anyone tried to infringe on anyone’s Third Amendment rights. There is nothing to suggest that the Third Amendment would not be enforced. The Supreme Court would quite likely strike down a law that is against the Third Amendment. 

The Third Amendment is also uncontroversial. There is no political pressure to change the amendment. It might also be irrelevant today because it is not easy to imagine anyone passing a law that infringes on it. 

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