Imagine that you live in 18th century Boston. You work there as a butcher, but you don’t have your own shop. To get to work, you need to walk a half-mile across town.
Up until 1765, this isn’t a big deal. In fact, you even enjoy it, as it gives you the chance to see other parts of the city. You can poke into the blacksmith shops to the loud ‘clang!’ of metal being shaped, breathe in the smell of fresh bread as it wafts out of the ovens at nearly every corner, and lose yourself in the shout of activity rumbling around the unloading ships in the harbor. But after 1765 and the passage of the Quartering Act, things are much different.
The greens of the Boston Commons, which you pass every day walking to work, are littered with tents being used as temporary housing for British soldiers, and there are troops living in nearly every inn, shop, warehouse, and unused building located along your route.
They parade around town and try to intimidate innocent citizens. You and the rest of Boston seethe with anger, ready to burst at the slightest provocation.
Looking back, putting British troops in such close company with colonists — who were growing increasingly angry at the king and Parliament for the laws they were trying to impose — was, perhaps, risky business.
The presence of troops stood as a harsh reminder of the authority of the British Crown, and the citizens of Boston, as well as other colonies, decided to take their frustration about this fact out on the soldiers they encountered in the streets.
Brawls were frequent, and in 1770, there was violence in Boston when British soldiers fired into a crowd and killed several people, an event known as the Boston Massacre.
The Quartering Act was not the sole motivation for this violence and the subsequent American Revolution. Instead, it was only a single of the many causes that built upon one another until the colonists were left with no other option but violence and rebellion.
What Was the Quartering Act of 1765?
After the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years’ War, ended in 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the British government decided it was best to leave a large number of the soldiers — previously sent to America to fight the French — in the colonies, so that they could provide for the colonial defense. A seemingly honest enough venture.
However, England was in tremendous debt after the war, and Parliament could not and would not pay for this army to stay, so it passed the Quartering Act of 1765, making it the responsibility of colonial assemblies to provide and provision for the troops stationed in their colony.
The law stated that troops could be housed in colonial barracks, and that if these were not available, then in the inns, stables, outbuildings, uninhabited houses, or homes that sold wine or alcohol.
This law did not require colonists to house troops in their private homes (yet), but it was still insulting all the same, and was resisted by those most affected.
Why Was the Quartering Act Passed?
This is kind of the big question. As mentioned, the official reason was to make it easier to keep a standing army in colonial America so that the colonies would be properly defended from any attacks, either by the French or, more likely, by Native Americans.
However, colonists at the time felt it was a move designed to make it easier for the British Parliament to enforce policies they enacted without the consultation and consent of the Americans they affected.
They also felt the Quartering Act was an attempt to, in effect, tax the colonies (as assemblies needed to tax citizens to pay for the provisioning of troops in their colony), again without any representation in Parliament.
This idea of “taxation without representation” would become a focal point of the American Revolution moving forward, especially after the passage of the Townshend Acts in 1765.
Response to the Quartering Act
The Stamp Act was also passed in 1765, and this received more attention largely because it affected more people, and because it, too, was an attempt to impose a direct tax on the colonies without proper representation.
However, colonists still resisted. New York flat out refused to comply with the law, with the colonial assembly not allowing a ship carrying 1,500 British soldiers to land in their city harbor. In response, Parliament passed a law suspending New York’s provincial government, but this never came to pass as the state eventually gave in to the Quartering Act.
Most other colonies also chose not to comply, and this was possible, in part, because there weren’t many British troops stationed across the colonies, meaning many areas were unaffected by the law. But this attitude from Parliament — that it could do what it wanted with the colonies — certainly did not sit well, and helped stir up resistance to English rule.
The Quartering Act of 1774
While the issue of quartering died down slightly as revolutionary focus shifted towards the Townshend Acts and the boycott of British goods being organized in protest, it came back onto the scene in 1774 with the passage of the Intolerable Acts, a series of laws meant to punish the colonies for the Boston Tea Party.
This law expanded the provincial governor’s power when searching for an adequate place to house troops, meaning that he could use more buildings than those listed in the Quartering Act of 1765. In some cases, he would even be allowed to use the homes of private citizens, a proverbial slap in the face from Parliament to the colonists.
The Intolerable Acts as a whole proved to be insufferable for most Americans, and they inspired widespread support for independence and revolution. As a result, this issue of quartering remained significant in debates in America, even after independence and the birth of the United States.
Remembering the Quartering Act: The 3rd Amendment to the Constitution
The forced quartering of troops on colonial property was such a symbol of an overreaching government that it was permanently forbidden with the 3rd amendment to the US Constitution, which forms part of the Bill of Rights.
The 3rd amendment strictly forbids the quartering of troops in private residences during peacetime, without the owner’s consent.
That the founders of the country felt this needed to be included in permanent US law shows how much this bothered colonists, and how they hoped and envisioned the government of their new country acting towards its subjects and citizens.