The Third Amendment: A Brief History
Updated: Oct 20
The Third Amendment is arguably the least relevant amendment in modern society. It reads:
“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.”
The Supreme Court has never ruled on a case solely regarding the Third Amendment, and in today’s modern society with military bases, it is increasingly unlikely the government would ever force people to house soldiers in their homes. Despite its irrelevance, the implications of the Third Amendment are tremendous.
In the late 18th century, parliament passed the Quartering Act, which said that even in times of peace, colonists were required to house soldiers and provide the necessary means of living. This was a burdensome requirement of the colonists and one that only furthered their fear of the power of a standing army comprised of active duty soldiers even in times of peace.
Colonists were highly skeptical of peace-time armies, so much so that as a generation they were arguably defined by the citizen-soldier ethos. This was the idea that there need not be a standing, formal army, because citizens would feel strongly enough about protecting their individual rights and freedoms, and be willing to take up arms if needed. This was affirmed during the Revolution, and for many soldiers, a sentiment felt in the Civil War. Colonists preferred the protection of a local militia to a standing professional army.
Colonists believed the need for a standing army was null. They felt citizens are the best safeguard of freedom since their allegiance would be to the country and not the government. This was echoed in the 1776 Virginia Bill of Rights, which reads “That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state”.
The premise of the Third Amendment is that Americans believed so deeply in the citizen-soldier ethos that the Third Amendment would hinder the need for a standing army.
Further, the Third Amendment should always be thought in the context of the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms, and to form a well-regulated militia. This traces back to the deep distrust in standing armies and the belief that citizens are the best defense of freedom. With the Second Amendment, Americans were virtually guaranteed protection to form local militia units. The Third Amendment essentially affirmed the deep distrust of standing armies and reinforced the idea that individuals-not government-are the best defense against tyranny. This is exceptionally pertinent to modern day issues facing the Second Amendment as the Third Amendment serves as a reminder that the Founders believed then, and we know now, that Americans must secure their right to keep and bear arms to defend the liberties of America, not the will of the government. This amendment acts as a partial explanation as to why we have the Second Amendment.
No amendment was put in place by accident. The Second Amendment secures the right of the people to keep and bear arms, while the Third Amendment helps us to understand why we have the Second Amendment.