The third amendment is one of the most overlooked amendments. Can you even tell me what it is?
“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.”
Yup, that’s it.
We rarely discuss, debate or argue about the Third Amendment, but it is perhaps one of the most essential and key amendments to American liberty.
Because it is most commonly referenced as protecting individuals’ privacy, property, family lives, personal affairs, and homes from government intrusion.
Given that our government was created upon John Locke’s theory of government—that government exists solely to protect private property—I’d say this is one of the most important amendments. Although, remember, our government, per their enumerated powers, can’t actually make laws that would ever intrude on this most precious right if it follows the Constitution.
The founders were very wary of government’s power to quarter soldiers in individuals’ homes. This was due much in part to the Quartering Acts of 1765 and 1774. With these, British Parliament authorized British troops to take shelter in homes of colonists via military fiat or order.
The U.S. states were none too pleased with this and many passed their own versions of the Third Amendment prior to Madison’s Constitutional version. The Declaration of Independence of 1776, references the British Invasion of privacy by accusing the King of keeping “among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the Consent of our Legislatures,” and his “quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us.”
This was a significant issue to the Americans and the American founders.
So, as you can tell, Madison uses pretty strong language to establish the importance of government’s noninterference into private American homes. He says that in times of peace no soldier shall be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner. No soldier is legally allowed to quarter in an American home without the consent of the owner during times of war either.
I did some deeper research into what “but in a manner to be prescribed by law” means and found little to support the claim that during times of war, Congress can write a law enforcing the quartering of soldiers in American homes. Because this has yet to be settled or even addressed by the courts, at this point, the consensus is pretty consistent: there is no quartering of soldiers in any American’s private homes simply because it is an invasion of private property.
Modern Day Application
This quote from the Constitution Center says that the Third Amendment “suggests the individual’s right of domestic privacy—that people are protected from governmental intrusion into their homes; and it is the only part of the Constitution that deals directly with the relationship between the rights of individuals and the military in both peace and war—rights that emphasize the importance of civilian control over the armed forces.” The key here is that the founders wanted the Americans to be an armed populace unto themselves, not subject to any standing army. Therefore, there should not be any quartering of a standing army because the American citizenry is above the army and such quartering would be an invasion of private property and a flip flop of the proper power dynamic: citizens > army.
As I already stated, the Supreme Court has never had to decide a case based solely on the Third Amendment. One of the primary references to it by the Court occurred during Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). The Court cited protections against the quartering of soldiers as a basis for the constitutional right to privacy (381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 ). And for the most part, lower courts have rejected Third Amendment claims. Click here to read about Engblom v. Carey (1982), yet another case that referenced the Third Amendment.
For all intents and purposes, the Third Amendment is a key indicator to government to stay out of American’s homes and privacy. And while this may seem obvious or a given, it is of supreme importance. Think of what would change should the government suddenly throw off these Constitutional restraints. We’re already seeing what happens when government interferes with how we run our private businesses; what happens when they move to our homes and families? They’ve found ways to influence us outside of law, but they’d love their power to no longer be strangled by the law.
If your home is not private, neither are your guns or your children or your beliefs or your conversations. This list goes on and on and underscores just how important the Third Amendment (and the Constitution) really is.
We may not pay much attention to the Third Amendment.
Maybe we should.
It is the bedrock of our society. We have free speech, we have a right to our own guns, to a trial by jury and the like because we have a right to our own privacy and our own homes.
Remember, government was created with the sole purpose of protecting private property. That’s it.
As we celebrate the liberty we have, we’d do well to never forget this part of our history and Constitution…
…so that we can make sure that our fellow Americans and our own government never forget it either.
The Liberty Belle