The Quartering Acts of 1765, 1766, and 1774 were among the measures implemented by Parliament to reorganize the empire after the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). In 1764, the commander in chief of the British Army in America, Thomas Gage, asked Parliament to extend the Mutiny Act—the constantly renewed law that allowed Britain to retain a peacetime standing army inside the realm—to the colonies. Gage hoped that the law would clear up any uncertainty as to how the army would be housed in peacetime, since Americans had never before had to consider the infrastructure problems caused by the presence of a standing army. During war, local officials had quartered and supplied troops according to necessity, an informal arrangement that traditionally had included the practice of quartering troops in private homes. Gage sought to formalize this ad hoc system.
Parliament passed the first Quartering Act in March 1765 for a two-year term. It required the American colonies to provide housing and supplies for the army. The following year, a second, more extensive act instructed officials in America to purchase any available vacant buildings for troop quarters—at provincial expense. Despite popular misunderstanding, the act actually banned the policy of using private homes as a cheaper alternative to quarter soldiers. In the charged atmosphere of 1766–1767, many Americans interpreted the Quartering Act simply as another form of unjust taxation.
Because the Quartering Act left the details up to the colonial assemblies, it proved easy to evade: legislatures simply did not have to grant the needed funds. This is exactly what the New York assembly did in December 1766. Even though several colonies had resisted the act, Parliament decided to make an example of New York, passing the Restraining Act of 1767, which suspended the New York assembly until it complied with the Quartering Act. While compromise prevented the actual dissolution of New York's legislature, Americans understood the dangerous implications of the Restraining Act.
Parliament passed a third Quartering Act on 2 June 1774 as one of the Intolerable Acts to punish Boston for its Tea Party. Because Boston had no barracks, British troops since their arrival in 1768 had been quartered in Castle William, a fort on an island in the harbor, rather than in the city itself. The Quartering Act of 1774 sought to amend this situation, stipulating that colonial authorities provide quarters on the spot of their assignment. Officers were also given the right to refuse unsuitable housing and permission to possess vacant locations if requests were not granted within twenty-four hours.
Although Americans generally condemned the Intolerable Acts, reaction to the Quartering Act was mild compared to the other measures. Still, the act and the threat of a standing army that it represented constituted part of the revolutionaries' justification for resistance. The Declaration of Independence included both the Quartering and Restraining Acts in its list of grievances against the king. The Bill of Rights, moreover, reassured Americans that they would not have to face a similar threat. The Third Amendment states that "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."
Ammerman, David. In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974.
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. New York: Knopf, 2000.
Hoffman, Ronald, and Peter J. Albert, eds. The Bill of Rights: Government Proscribed. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997.
Robert G. Parkinson