Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 27, 2013

SCOUT REPORT: Stay off the lawn

By Clinton Gill
Glade Sun editor

CROSSVILLE — The Third Amendment to the Constitution states the following:

"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."

At the time of its inception, the provisions of the Third Amendment were extremely important to the colonists, though they may not seem to carry the same weight in modern times. Wars have rarely been waged on American territory and the federal government has since built massive military bases to house its soldiers. To date, the Third Amendment has not been subject to Supreme Court interpretation, though it has been cited by the courts a few times in passing. For this reason, it has been  deemed "The Forgotten Amendment." However, despite being seldom challenged, the Third Amendment still has importance.

After the French and Indian War, the crown decided it to be necessary to maintain a large standing army in the colonies to protect British interests, but they didn't want to pay for it. The war had been extremely costly, almost bankrupting England. As a result, Parliament began looking to the colonies for "quantitative easement," so to speak. The crown began putting the squeeze on the colonists in the form of new taxes. They used their army to enforce their law. However, maintaining a military presence was very expensive, so they began looking for cost saving measures. Parliament decided Americans should pay for "protection." So, in 1765 they passed the Quartering Act.

The stipulations of the Quartering Act required that British troops be given access to private housing whenever public accommodations were not available. The law further required the colonists to feed the troops on their private property at their own expense, with no provision for reimbursement. You can imagine how that went over. The forced quartering of troops was one of the main grievances against King George, as noted in the Declaration of Independence:

"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States."

Homeowner rights against force billeting have typically held high regard in English law; protections of this sort date back to the 12th century. To paraphrase the basis of these early Anglo-Saxon laws, there can be no real expectation of peace in public; however, a homeowner should be able to enjoy peace underneath their own roof. Obviously this doesn't take into account the presence of teenagers.

Despite having deep roots, in practice these laws have generally been ignored. In every instance where the British have launched a significant military campaign in North America, quartering troops has been a problem. Allegations of abuse date back into the late 1600s. I suppose that's to be expected any time a foreign army occupies a land. More surprising, perhaps, are the abuses by our own government. There have been four wars fought on American soil  – The Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and the Mexican-American War. Obviously the Third Amendment was not established until after the Revolutionary War, and in the Mexican-American War most of the fighting was done in sparsely populated areas, so there were no clearly documented violations of the Third Amendment. However, in both the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the Third Amendment was egregiously violated – yet there was no major uproar. 

During these conflicts several states adopted legislation that addressed quartering, as prescribed by the Third Amendment. Legally speaking, quartering was allowable only through strict regulation. The statutes required "that Justices of the Peace direct the quartering of troops; that they try first to find rooms in hired housing, then in taverns and inns, then in empty or abandoned houses, and only then in private homes; that troops be distributed evenly and fairly; that fines be paid by officials who quartered in violation of the statute and by civilians who resisted lawful requests for shelter; and that those on whom troops were quartered receive rent and recompense for property damage." In reality, no rent or recompense for property damage was ever paid. The Committee on War-Claims estimated $3,000,000 in damages to private property after the Civil War. This was but a small fraction of actual damages. Recognizing that rent and damage claims would be virtually limitless, Congress declined to reimburse anyone on either side, Union or Confederate. 

The importance of the Third Amendment is that it establishes a right to privacy and addresses the sovereignty of private property, both ideas of which are inseparable tenets of a free society. Though we are in no immediate danger of its violation, it is incumbent upon us to remember and to remind the government that there are boundaries they need not cross. In other words, stay off the lawn.