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BILLETING, the quartering of military troops at public expense, was a British practice that infuriated American colonists and fueled calls for revolution. Billeting became a contentious issue, particularly in New York and Philadelphia, as Great Britain sent more and more soldiers to fight the French during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). To offset the cost of maintaining a modern army in North America, the British parliament passed the Mutiny Act of 1765, more commonly known as the Quartering Act. This new act required colonial governments to billet troops in taverns, barns, and uninhabited houses and to furnish them with provisions when barracks were not available. As "a common resort of arbitrary princes," billeting aroused resistance in Charleston in 1764, New York in 1766, and Boston in 1768, largely owing to aversion to higher taxes and to anger over the British military's willingness to enforce the act. This resistance fed on the traditional British opposition to standing armies. The colonies eventually agreed to quarter the British army. Billeting aggravated tensions between American colonists and British soldiers, however, and led directly to the Boston Massacre in 1770. Although Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1774 to permit billeting within Boston, this new legislation did little to stem the tide of revolution in North America. Billeting not only sparked calls for independence but also conditioned how Americans would view standing armies. As a result of Parliament's attempt to force the American colonies to quarter British troops, Congress prohibited billeting in the Third Amendment of the Bill of Rights.


Maier, Pauline. From Resistance to Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1972.

Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Young, Alfred F. The Shoemaker and the Tea Party. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.

Zobel, Hiller B. The Boston Massacre. New York: Norton, 1970.


Eric J.Morser

See alsoBoston Massacre ; Coercive Acts ; Mutiny Act ; Quartering Acts .

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billeting. The right of the crown to demand accommodation for its troops was always part of the royal prerogative, and derived from the subject's duty to help the king against his enemies. Though it was never popular, since remuneration was often inadequate and slow, it did not become a major constitutional issue until the 17th cent., when Parliament was watchful for encroachments upon the liberties of the subject and the Stuart kings were very short of money. The petition of right (1628) complained that ‘great companies of soldiers and mariners have been dispersed into divers counties and the inhabitants against their will have been compelled to receive them into their houses … to the great grievance and vexation of the people’. Though Charles accepted the petition, the grievance continued, and in 1640 he told Yorkshire petitioners sharply that the right of billeting was a ‘necessary power’. After the Glorious Revolution, the law was modified: ordinary citizens were not required to find billets, but innkeepers were obliged to accept troops and a scale of charges laid down. Not until a programme of barrack-building was carried through in the 19th cent. was the issue finally put to rest.

J. A. Cannon