The Quartering Acts refers to provisions passed by the British Parliament during the 18th century. Under these Acts, local colonial governments were forced to provide provisions and housing to British soldiers stationed in the American colonies. The two Quartering Acts were amendments to the Mutiny Act, which was reviewed and renewed each year by the British Parliament. The intent of the Acts was to alleviate problems experienced during the Seven Years’ War, but in reality they increased tensions between the American colonies and the British government.
Prior to Passage
Before the first official Quartering Act, British troops were forcibly housed in seized private dwellings during the French and Indian War. During wartime, the colonies provided provisions to British troops. However, during peacetime, the requirement for housing and provisions proved to be a point of dissent between the colonies and the British government. Following the French defeat in the French and Indian War, colonists questioned the need for a standing army in peacetime. As a result of the colonial resistance, Lieutenant-General Thomas Gage sought support from the British Parliament. The resulting first Quartering Act went far beyond his original request.
Quartering Act of 1765
In response to Gage’s request and in an attempt to regain control of the colonies, the British Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1765. Given Royal Assent on March 24, 1765, this Act gave Great Britain the right to quarter troops in barracks and public houses in the colonies. This requirement followed the original Mutiny Act of 1765 but the overall Quartering Act went beyond the original Mutiny Act requirements. Under the new Act, if more British troops required housing than was available in barracks and public houses, the troops could be housed in a variety of additional locations such as inns, ale houses, private homes of those selling wine or alcohol and livery stables. Furthermore, if the number of troops exceeded the additional locations, provisions were included to house soldiers in any uninhabited homes or outbuildings such as barns or outhouses. Finally, the Act required colonial governments to absorb the costs associated with quartering British troops, including food and shelter.
Quartering Act of 1774
The second Quartering Act contained similar requirements as the first, but did not require the colonies to provide British troops with provisions. This second Act passed British Parliament in 1774 and expired in 1776. Colonists opposed the second Quartering Act even though the requirements were less burdensome.
The first Quartering Act resulted in a minor skirmish in New York when the local government initially refused to quarter arriving British troops. In 1776, troops had to remain aboard their ships because the local government refused to provide housing. After a colonist was injured in skirmishes following the local government’s refusal to provide billeting, the British Parliament suspended New York’s local legislature. This suspension never took effect, however, since the local Assembly agreed to fund the billeting of troops. Other colonies avoided the Act by various methods until it expired in 1767.
Both Quartering Acts served to increase tensions between the American colonies and the British government. Requirements to house and provision troops, even during peacetime, proved to be a significant source of disagreement between the emerging colonial independence and the British government. This proved to be such a point of disagreement that the Third Amendment to the United States Constitution expressly forbids the forcible quartering of troops in private residences without consent.