George Floyd

What is the third amendment and can it be applied now?

The Third Amendment had been largely lost in time until Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser invoked it to oust National Guard troops from the capital.

What is the third amendment and can it be applied now?
POOL REUTERS

The Fourth of July is the most important date in the United States calendar, commemorating the day the 13 former American colonies declared themselves independent states and thumbed their collective nose at Great Britain. This paved the way, 13 years later, for the US Constitution to be enshrined in 1789. The First Amendment followed in 1791, establishing the basic rights of freedom of all US citizens. The second was also added at the same time and is perhaps the most contentious and famous of all the 27 amendments – the right to bear arms, which has been in the headlines during the coronavirus pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Also slipped in on 25 September, 1789, among the 10 amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, was one that has been practically forgotten by history: the Third Amendment.

The decision by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to write to President Donald Trump demanding the ousting of 1,000 Utah National Guard troops from hotels in the capital has suddenly thrown the little-studied Third Amendment into sharp relief with dusty tomes being pulled from shelves to see what exactly the Democratic mayor’s issue is.

The first to find the relevant page was US Senator Mike Lee, the Republican representative for Utah, who was incensed that Bowser had invoked the centuries old small print to evict the National Guard from Washington hotels after the state of emergency put in place due to protests over George Floyd’s death had been declared over by Bowser on 4 June.

What is the Third Amendment?

The original text of the Third Amendment is brief and specific: “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.”

It was added to the Bill of Rights in response to the Quartering Acts drawn up by the British parliament in 1774 in the run-up to the American Revolutionary War. These acts (a previous one had been introduced in 1765) essentially ordered that British troops be housed wherever necessary if there was not sufficient space in barracks, be this in “uninhabited houses, out-houses, barns, or other buildings” including private homes.

This was among the list of grievances aired in the Declaration of Independence and the wording of the Third Amendment was crafted in response to Britain slyly building up forces at strategic points by waving the Quartering Act about and to ensure no internal antagonists could concentrate troops using a similar ruse.

However, under the terminology of the amendment, National Guard troops are considered soldiers, even if they are hardly an occupying army. Thusly Bowser was able to invoke the Third Amendment to make her point.

What happened after Bowser used the Third Amendment?

Not a great deal, other than a raft of memes, a little head-scratching and some political point-scoring. Even though the hotels that had “billeted” the National Guard had consented to their presence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper elected to send all troops in Washington back from whence they came as the path of least resistance, allowing the Third Amendment to return to its two-century hibernation.