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The Suburbanite
  • Bruce's History Lessons: The Quartering Act of 1765

  • When the British Parliament enacted the Quartering Act, which required the colonists to provide housing, bedding and sustenance to British soldiers stationed in America, it was bound to cause trouble.

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  • “For a man’s home is his castle.” – Sir Edward Coke, English jurist, 1644
    If “No taxation without representation!” was the number one rallying cry of the American colonists against the British government leading up to the American Revolution, a close second would be, “A man’s home is his castle!”
    Indeed, as with representative taxation, the sanctity of a British citizen in his home was deeply rooted in English common law. So when the British Parliament enacted the Quartering Act (March 24, 1765), which required the colonists to provide housing, bedding and sustenance to British soldiers stationed in America, it was bound to cause trouble.
    The act was a direct response to the greatly increased British military presence in America after the recently fought French and Indian War.
    Although Britain and its American colonial cousins had defeated the French in that war, there remained significant pockets of resistance, not just French troops, but also a number of hostile Indian tribes that resented colonial encroachment of their hunting grounds. Several violent clashes between the colonists and these Indian tribes had prompted Britain to increase its military presence in the New World, which naturally necessitated finding living quarters for them.
    Since the troops were there to protect the colonists, Parliament assumed that those colonists would be only too happy to bear their share of this burden by opening their homes, inns and shops to British soldiers.
    That assumption was wrong, in part because the Quartering Act, like the Stamp Act, Sugar Act and the other “taxation” acts of the 1760s, was seen by the colonists as a threat to their rights.
    And to their power. Being English, which they very much considered themselves to be, not only did the colonists believe they had a right to be secure in their homes, but also, more important, they, via their own elected officials, would determine if that right was to be amended, not a British government located an ocean away. In other words, just as Parliament had no power to tax them since they weren’t represented in Parliament, neither did Parliament have the power to force British soldiers on them.
    In the end, like the Stamp and Sugar acts, the Quartering Act was repealed, in 1770, when Parliament realized that the costs of enforcing it far outweighed the benefits.
    But the story doesn’t end there.
    In 1774, a far more draconian Quartering Act was imposed on the colonists of Massachusetts as one of the punishments for the Boston Tea Party.
    Not only did this act help start the revolution, it was so hated that 17 years later a prohibition against quartering soldiers became the third amendment to our Constitution.
    Bruce G. Kauffmann’s e-mail address is bruce@historylessons.net.