On this day in 1765, Parliament passes the Quartering Act. Huh? What’s a Quartering Act? It’s a name that sounds foreign to modern ears. But early Americans suffered terribly under its provisions, along with those of a similar Act passed in 1774.
The issue had festered since at least 1628.
Back then, British citizens petitioned their King because they’d been “compelled to receive [soldiers] into their houses, and there to suffer them to sojourn . . . to the great grievance and vexation of the people.” Eventually, these issues were resolved by the Mutiny Act of 1689. That Act protected British citizens from being forced to lodge (or quarter) soldiers in their private homes.
Many years later, this history created one small problem for American colonists.
Legally, it was unclear whether the Mutiny Act applied to them. It was a constant bone of contention, particularly during and immediately after the Seven Years War (1756-1763). Part of that war between France and Britain was fought on American soil. American colonists suffered because British soldiers were quartered in the colonists’ private homes. Unsurprisingly, even more debates ensued about who should bear the costs for these soldiers’ lodging and food.
Things got worse after the war.
The Quartering Act of 1765 was passed as an amendment to the Mutiny Act. You may remember from prior morning history posts that a controversial tax measure, the Stamp Act, had also just been enacted during this period of time. The sequence of events left the colonists wondering: Was the quartering requirement really just another way to tax them? And, if so, then they were very upset! They did not believe that they should be taxed without representation in Parliament. Moreover, they were now being asked to quarter soldiers during a time of peace. It was one thing to do so during a war. It was quite another matter to do it otherwise.
When the Quartering Act was first approved by Parliament on March 24, it included a provision that would have allowed soldiers to use private homes. Benjamin Franklin, then in London, later wrote that he worked hard to have that language amended. The final version of the Act was not complete until May 1765, and that final version did not allow British troops to use private American homes. However, it did require colonists to provide housing for soldiers through other means: inns, stables, public alehouses. Food and beverage and other supplies were also to be provided by the colonists.
Now keep in mind that one duty of these soldiers was to control opposition to the Stamp Act. Colonists were being asked to quarter soldiers whose main duty was to keep them in line. You’d better believe that didn’t go over too well!
When all was said and done, passage of the Quartering Act of 1765 was really just an early act in a much longer play. More scenes would follow: Certainly, the second Quartering Act (1774) would cause even more outrage. By 1776, the Declaration of Independence would criticize the King for “quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.”
Maybe it is the final scene in the play that we really want to remember? The 3rd Amendment to our Constitution was directly influenced by all of these events. It provides: “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.”
Charles Knight, The Popular History of England: An Illustrated History of Society and Government from the Earliest Period to Our Own Times (1859) (Vol. 5)
Don R. Gerlach, A Note on the Quartering Act of 1774 (New England Quarterly; March 1966)
Matthew C. Ward, Breaking The Backcountry: Seven Years War In Virginia And Pennsylvania 1754-1765 (2003)
Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Deborah Franklin (April 18, 1765)
Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Samuel Rhoads (July 8, 1765)
Petition of Right (1628) (reprinted HERE)