Many people don’t realize just how long the build-up to the American War of Independence was. To hear some people talk, you’d think British passed the Stamp Act one day, the next we held the Boston Tea Party, and before the weekend was over we were at war. Actually it was a long, slow process of disaffection that led to the colonies first taking up arms, then declaring independence, and finally winning it.
In the aftermath of the French and Indian War, which itself was basically the American edition of the Seven Years War–starting, in fact, two years before that war is generally considered to have begun. During the war, most of the colonies agreed to provide provisions, including quarters, for the army. But once the war was over, sentiment in the colonies changed. They hadn’t had a standing army in the colonies before the war. Why, they asked, should they need one now?
This army had its headquarters in New York because the New York assembly had passed an act to provide quarters for them. When the Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War in February of 1763, the act providing for quarters was allowed to expire, which it did on January 2, 1764.
As the colonies were not willing to continue to provide quarters and provisions for an army that it saw served no useful purpose in the colonies, the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in America asked Parliament to do something. Parliament responded with the Quartering Act of 1765. This act required housing British troops in barracks and public houses. But if these were not sufficient, i.e. if the British sent over more troops than there was barracks space, then, the troops would be housed “inns, livery stables, ale houses, victualing houses, and the houses of sellers of wine and houses of persons selling of rum, brandy, strong water, cider or metheglin” and on to “uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns, or other buildings.” Furthermore, colonial authorities were required to pay for this. This, in fact, predates the effective date of the Stamp Act of 1765 (November 1, 1765) and thus provided an early warning of the Taxation without Representation issue that would loom so large over the next decade in the run-up to the American War of Independence.
When the British sent 1500 troops to New York City, the city’s Provisional Assembly refused to comply with the act leaving the troops in the ships as there were no quarters for them ashore. This resulted in a minor skirmish in which one colonist was killed. Because of New York’s resistance, Parliament suspended its governor and legislature but these orders were never enforced. In the end the Provisional Assembly relented, allocating funds for the quartering of the troops.
Nearly a decade later, a new quartering act was part of what became known as the “Intolerable Acts”. There is dispute over whether this act actually permitted the quartering of troops in private homes (or whether that was done, permitted or not), but the image of doing so is the direct reason for the Third Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:
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.