3rd Amendment

The 3rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution concerns housing soldiers during wartime. For example, the 3rd Amendment forbids soldiers from temporarily taking up residence in citizens’ houses during peace time, unless they have consent from the homeowner to do so. While not normally enforced in modern times, the 3rd Amendment was particularly necessary during the American Revolutionary War. It is also the least litigated amendment to the Constitution. To explore this concept, consider the following 3rd Amendment definition.

Definition of 3rd Amendment


  1. The Amendment to the Constitution that specifies that soldiers are forbidden from staying with citizens in their private homes during peace time without permission.


December 15, 1791       Amendment ratified by Congress

What is the 3rd Amendment

The 3rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution concerns whether soldiers are permitted to stay with private citizens during peace time. While they are permitted to do so during wartime, during peace time it is important that soldiers gain the express permission of the homeowner before attempting to take up residence in his home. This amendment is relatively unused at this point in time, but at one point in U.S. history, the amendment was not only relevant but also necessary.

History of the 3rd Amendment

The history of the 3rd Amendment begins before the American Revolutionary War. During the war, American colonists were often asked to allow British soldiers to stay with them temporarily. This was because the British did not have their own bases across the colonies, and so they needed somewhere to sleep at night when they were done fighting for the day. Even before the war, the British had passed what were called the “Quartering Acts.”

The first of the Quartering Acts said that the American colonies must pay for the British soldiers who were fighting to protect their colonies. It also stated that, if the British soldiers needed a place to stay, they were permitted to stay, without asking, in the barns, stables, and inns that belonged to the colonists. The second Quartering Act took things one step further, removing the restrictions on where British troops could stay. Now, they were permitted to stay wherever they wanted, including inside the colonists’ homes. The unhappy colonists renamed these acts the “Intolerable Acts.”

This practice of what was essentially home invasion continued into the days of the Revolutionary War. Now soldiers were not only taking over colonists’ homes, but were demanding food as well. After the war, the colonists wanted to ensure that something like this could never happen again, and so began the history of the 3rd Amendment.

The idea of the 3rd Amendment is that, while a soldier may still be allowed to occupy private property for a short period during wartime, during peace time the property owners’ rights are superior to the rights of the military. Under the amendment, property owners can now refuse to “quarter,” or house, soldiers if they so choose. Americans still continued to quarter soldiers, however, until even after the Civil War. Since then, the 3rd Amendment has only applied to a handful of situations, but it remains important even to this day. For example, the 3rd Amendment protects the American citizens’ right to privacy.

The history of the 3rd Amendment is a rather tame one. For example, the 3rd Amendment is one of the least controversial amendments. It is also so rarely contested that the American Bar Association has referred to it as the “runt piglet” of the Constitution.

Modern Relevance of the 3rd Amendment

The modern relevance of the 3rd Amendment, as of 2017, has it as being generally non-existent. Today, the federal government is not likely to ask people to house soldiers in their homes, even during wartime. That being said, the modern relevance of the 3rd Amendment has more to do with protecting the American people from the government being able to intrude upon their homes. It is also the only amendment that concerns the relationship the citizens have with the military, both during peace time and wartime. The rights granted in this amendment emphasize the importance of civilian control over their homes and property.

Some legal scholars believe that the modern relevance of the 3rd Amendment can be molded to fit relevant circumstances. For instance, they believe that the 3rd Amendment may be applicable to the government’s response to terror attacks, natural disasters, or even to issues involving the militarization of the police.

3rd Amendment Example Involving Correction Officers

One of the more recent court cases involving a challenge to the 3rd Amendment was the case of Engblom v. Carey. In this case, Plaintiffs Marianne E. Engblom and Charles E. Palmer were working as corrections officers at Mid-Orange Correctional Facility, in the state of New York. They sued the Governor of New York, along with various prison officials of the state of New York, alleging that their Due Process and 3rd Amendment rights had been violated by the defendants during a statewide strike.

In April and May of 1979, state corrections officers went on strike, and the National Guard was activated to cover their positions in the prisons. Many of the corrections officers lived in employee housing owned by the state. During the strike, National Guard members were housed in these residences without giving prior notice to, or seeking the permission of, the officer residents.

Initially, the United States District Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint. The Court’s grounds for doing so was that the plaintiffs did not have enough ownership in their facility residences to entitle them to the protections they claimed had been violated.

The corrections officers appealed the decision, but the Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court on its assertion that the National Guardsmen are considered to be “soldiers” under the 3rd Amendment. They are also state employees under the Governor’s control. However, the Circuit Court reversed the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ 3rd Amendment claim, holding that it could not say as a matter of law whether the plaintiffs held enough ownership in their living quarters to qualify for protection under the 3rd Amendment. The appellate court remanded the dismissal of the 3rd Amendment claim to the lower court.

The District Court ultimately granted the defendant’s motion for dismissal, explaining its decision in this manner:

“Thus, I conclude that as a matter of law plaintiffs’ Third Amendment rights were not ‘clearly established’ at the time of the events in question, and therefore that the defendants are protected by a qualified immunity and entitled to summary judgment. Consequently, it is unnecessary to address the defendants’ argument in the alternative that they are shielded from damage liability due to the absence of any personal involvement.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • PlaintiffA person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.