My Favorite Item from the Bill of Rights

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.
                                                                              Constitution of the United States, Amendment III

I love the Third Amendment.

It is not at all controversial. Only once in the history of the United States has the Third Amendment been used to decide  court case (Engbloom v. Carey, 2nd Circuit, 1982.) There have in reality been violations of the amendment, usually when lands and buildings are used without the requisite legislation during wartime, but the Third Amendment has generally been well respected  by the government.

If restrictions on the quartering of troops are so uncontroversial and nobody ever thinks to put soldiers in private homes anyway, the strawman I am constructing just asked, then why even bother having an amendment to cover it?

Quartering of soldiers was a fact of life during the colonial times. Families had to give up living space, or space that could have been used to earn money renting to boarders, to make room for uninvited Redcoat guests. Let me assure you, despite the image created on screen of soldiers in highly maintained rooms who make their beds so coins can bounce off them and who are absolutely adamant about placing everything exactly where it belongs, soldiers in real life are not always the people you want as a roommate. Soldiers get to be loud and obnoxious. For them, drinking is a sport, and soldiers coming home late and none too quietly is not unheard of. Is this type of soldier typical? Honestly, no, most soldiers are great friends and companions, but there are enough of the sluggard type to say it is not really unusual.

It is not just the forced cohabitation with a low life that is the problem. The very fact that somebody has been placed in your house against your will is unsettling. Having a soldier in the house could seem like you are being monitored, like you are living under surveillance, as a tourist in  communist country might have a handler while over there. If you had a Redcoat at your dining room table, do you really think you would be free criticize King George? If you had a soldier watching the evening news with you each night, would you be as quick to complain about President Obama?

Memories of this time before the Revolution lingered, so when it came time for the first Congress to get around to adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, quartering of troops was still a violation remembered by many in the young country, which explains its inclusion in the Bill of Rights. So, while there was a reluctance for that Congress to put soldiers into private homes anyway, they wanted to ensure that is would not happen to future generations. They also wanted to ensure the populace that the national government could be trusted to safeguard their rights.

I like that the Bill of Rights a covers items that we no longer even think of as targets for violation. I think that the country would be much better off if we had more of the amendments from the Bill of Rights that we viewed in the same way.

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