Not in My House! The Quartering Acts of 1765 and 1774
What was “the Quartering Act? What was the reaction to the Quartering Acts of 1765 and 1774? In particular what did Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin react to the Act of 1765, and how did Franklin and John Dickinson react to the subsequent suspension of the New York Assembly. Which Amendment in our Bill of Rights is a direct result of these coercive, or intolerable, acts passed by the British Parliament?
This will be the first of a two part podcast. In the next edition, we will discuss how the Quartering Act eventually resulted in the Boston Massacre. We will also discuss the Boston Massacre, and how was it depicted differently by British officials and many in the American Colonies.
What turned the slow simmer within many colonist to a rage so fierce that it erupted and led to incidents such as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party? It was a series of acts and proclamations passed by the British Parliament that began with the Navigation Acts and culminated with a series of acts that we know as the “Intolerable Acts.” Over time, I will cover each of these acts, but with the anniversary of the Boston Massacre just around the corner on March 5th, I thought I would discuss one of the Intolerable Acts, how it led to the Boston Massacre, and how it was viewed differently depending upon whether the observer was a British official or loyalist or a colonist who perceived that the British were increasingly infringing upon his or her rights.
What were the “Intolerable Acts.” They were a series of acts passed by the British Parliament following the Boston Tea Party. The British referred to them as the “Coercive Acts,” and they were intended to bring the Colonies back into line and compliant with British rule. Many colonists viewed these acts as a violation of their rights as British citizens
Let’s focus on one of the Intolerable Acts. It is known as the “Quartering Act.” Many view this act as the “least intolerable” of the Intolerable Acts, but in combination with an earlier act passed by the Parliament, it was absolutely intolerable to those colonists who had British troops thrust into their lives and onto their property.
“Quartering” is not a term that is commonly used today. You might think of a quarter coin, a quarter of a cup, or even a quarter horse. But the term , as it was used in the acts, referred to living quarters. Specifically, quarters that were needed to house members of the British military. In 1763, before the passage of the first Quartering Act, the British debt has soared to almost 130 million pounds. Remember that is in the value of 1763 pounds. Although I am not guaranteeing the accuracy of this to the shilling, a historical currency converter that I used converted that amount into more than 3 billon of today’s British pounds. If that is correct, that would convert into 4,623,600,000.00 billion of today’s dollars. Needless to say, the British had a substantial amount of debt.
In that the French and Indian War had concluded the British had the problem of what to do with all of those soldiers stationed in the colonies. Although British officials spoke for decades about the need to have military personnel in the Colonies to defend them, it was actually less expensive to leave the on the North American Continent than it would be to bring them all home, and reintegrate them into British society (read that as find them all jobs).
When you think of the term “quartering” as something akin to “housing”…Talk about intolerable! Imagine being told people would soon be knocking on your door. You would be responsible for providing bedding, food, cooking supplies, and firewood. All this would be done in the name of “providing suitable Quarters for Officers and Soldiers in his Majesty’s Service in North America.””
And that was exactly the scenario that was thrust upon the Colonists in 1765 with the passage of the first Quartering Act. The British couched the Act in terms of the necessity of providing continued safety for the Colonies after the French and Indian War. Although many of the Colonial Assemblies had provided food and shelter during the war for the soliders, they objected to the continuation of that practice during peacetime.
The Quartering Acts were written as addendum to two of the British Mutiny Acts which had been passed yearly by the British Parliament since 1689. In 1765 and 1774, the Mutiny Acts had amendments that specifically referred to the Colonies in North America.
The Quartering Act OF 1774 is included as being one of the Intolerable Acts. However, the Mutiny Act of 1765 was far more intolerable than what was implemented in 1774. That act was entitled: An act for punishing mutiny and desertion, and for the better payment of the army and their quarters.
It required that the following places be made available to British Troops for as long as seven days if space in barracks were unavailable for them: “inns, livery stables, ale-houses, victualling-houses, and the houses of sellers of wine by retail to be drank in their own houses or places thereunto belonging, and all houses of persons selling of rum, brandy, strong water, cyder or metheglin, by retail, to be drank in houses.” They could also access “uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns or other buildings.” The owners of these dwellings were also required to provide “diet, and small beer, cyder, or rum mixed with water.” If an innholder provided shelter for British troops there was the additional requirement of “candles, vinegar, and salt, and with small beer or cyder, not exceeding five pints, or half a pint of rum mixed with a quart of water, for each man per diem, gratis, and allow to such non-commission officers or soldiers the use of fire, and the necessary utensils for dressing and eating their meat” As you will learn later, originally the bill proposed in Parliament included private homes. Who paid for all of this? Local governments were required to compensate anyone who quartered the troops. Of course, that requirement ultimately resulted in taxes being placed on local residents. One can imagine that many of these local innholders or homeowners absorbed some or much of the costs on their own.
After 1500 British troops arrived in the Port of New York, the New York Assembly saw the writing on the wall and petitioned the royal governor for relief. They stated: “We, His Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal Subjects, the General Assembly of the Colony of New York, have taken your Excellency’s message of the 17th of November last, into our most serious Consideration: and beg Leave to assure your Excellency that nothing would give us a greater Pleasure than to find it in our Power to comply with every Requisition tending in any manner to promote His Majesty’s Service. It is therefore with great Concern that we find it impossible to comply with what is now demanded, consistent with our Obligations to our Constituents [citizens of the colony]. . . . In the Provision we made last Session for quartering Two Battalions and one Company of Artillery, we loaded ourselves with a Burden much greater than any of the neighboring Governments lie under for that Service, and imagined that, far from being censured on that Account, it would be accepted as a new Instance of that Loyalty and Affection to His Majesty’s Government, of which this Colony has exhibited so many Proofs. We beg Leave, further, to represent to your Excellency that, by the Act of Parliament, it appears to be the Intention of the Legislature to provide for the quartering Soldiers only on a March; but according to the Construction [interpretation] put on it here, it is required that all the Forces which shall at any Time enter this Colony, shall be quartered during the whole Year, in a very unusual and expensive Manner: That by marching several Regiments into this Colony, this Expense would become ruinous and insupportable; And, therefore, we cannot consistent with our Duty to our Constituents, put it in the Power of any Person . . . to lay such a Burden on them.”
In response, the Parliament passed an “Act for restraining and prohibiting the Governor, Council, and House of Representatives, of the Province of New York, until Provision shall have been made for furnishing the King’s Troops.” The Assembly chose to acquiesce before they even knew about the restraining order passed by the Parliament. They did so despite cries of protest rose from individuals such as John Dickson. After the Quartering Act was passed, Dickson wrote a letter, published in the New York Journal under the pseudonym of “A Farmer” encouraging New Yorkers, and the other colonists to band together and resist the tyrannical acts of the British Parliament. However, the Assembly chose to acquiesce before they had learned of the suspension, but continued to deny that the Parliament had the right to require any colonial assembly to act in a way that would require them to dispense funds.
Another letter from “A Farmer” appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser on December 2, 1767. In the letter, Dickson wrote:
“My dear COUNTRYMEN, . . .
WITH a good deal of surprise I have observed that little notice has been taken of an act of Parliament as injurious in its principle to the liberties of these colonies as the Stamp Act was: I mean the act for suspending the legislation of New York.
THE assembly of that government complied with a former act of Parliament requiring certain provisions to be made for the troops in America in every particular, I think, except the articles of salt, pepper and vinegar. In my opinion they acted imprudently, considering all circumstances, in not complying so far as would have given satisfaction, as several colonies did. But my dislike of their conduct in that instance has not blinded me so much that I cannot plainly perceive that they have been punished in a manner pernicious to American freedom and justly alarming to all the colonies.
IF the British Parliament has a legal authority to issue an order that we shall furnish a single article for the troops here, and to compel obedience to that order, they have the same right to issue an order for us supply those troops with arms, clothes, and every necessary, and to compel obedience to that order also; in short, to lay any burdens they please upon us. What is this but taxing us at a certain sum and leaving us only the manner of raising it? How is this mode more tolerable than the Stamp Act? Would that act have appeared more pleasing to Americans if, being ordered thereby to raise the sum total of the taxes, the mighty privilege had been left to them of saying how much should be paid for an instrument of writing on paper, and how much for another on parchment?
AN act of Parliament commanding us to do a certain thing, if it has any validity, is a tax upon us for the expense that accrues in complying with it, and for this reason, I believe, every colony on the continent that chose to give a mark of their respect for Great Britain, in complying with the act relating to the troops, cautiously avoided the mention of that act, lest their conduct should be attributed to its supposed obligation.
THE matter being thus stated, the assembly of New York either had or had not a right to refuse submission to that act. If they had, and I imagine no American will say they had not, then the Parliament had no right to compel them to execute it. If they had not this right, they had no right to punish them for not executing it, and therefore no right to suspend their legislation, which is a punishment. In fact, if the people of New York cannot be legally taxed but by their own representatives, they cannot be legally deprived of the privilege of legislation, only for insisting on that exclusive privilege of taxation. If they may be legally deprived in such a case of the privilege of legislation, why may they not, with equal reason, be deprived of every other privilege? Or why may not every colony be treated in the same manner, when any of them shall dare to deny their assent to any impositions that shall be directed? Or what signifies the repeal of the Stamp Act if these colonies are to lose their other privileges by not tamely surrendering that of taxation?
WITH concern I have observed that two assemblies of this province have sat and adjourned without taking any notice of this act. It may perhaps be asked: what would have been proper for them to do? I am by no means fond of inflammatory measures; I detest them. I should be sorry that anything should be done which might justly displease our sovereign or our mother country: But a firm, modest exertion of a free spirit should never be wanting on public occasions. It appears to me that it would have been sufficient for the assembly to have ordered our agents to represent to the King’s ministers their sense of the suspending act and to pray for its repeal. Thus we should have borne our testimony against it, and might therefore reasonably expect that, on a like occasion, we might receive the same assistance from the other colonies. . . . A FARMER”
The colonial angst and upset regarding the Quartering Act of 1765 was also expressed to others in Europe. In a letter to his friend Henry Home, also known as Lord Kames, who was a Scottish judge and philosopher, Benjamin Franklin wrote on February 25, 1767:
“My dear Friend,
I Received your Favour of Jan. 19. You have kindly reliev’d me from the Pain I had long been under. You are Goodness itself.
I ought long since to have answered yours of Decr. 25. 1765. I never receiv’d a Letter that contain’d Sentiments more suitable to my own. It found me under much Agitation of Mind on the very important Subject it treated. It fortified me greatly in the Judgment I was inclined to form (tho’ contrary to the general Vogue) on the then delicate and critical Situation of Affairs between Britain and her Colonies; and on that weighty Point their Union: You guess’d aright in supposing I could not be a Mute in that Play. I was extreamly busy, attending Members of both Houses, informing, explaining, consulting, disputing, in a continual Hurry from Morning to Night till the Affair was happily ended. During the Course of it, being called before the House of Commons, I spoke my Mind pretty plainly. Inclos’d I send you the imperfect Account that was taken of that Examination; you will there see how intirely we agree, except in a Point of Fact of which you could not but be mis-inform’d, the Papers at that time being full of mistaken Assertions, that the Colonies had been the Cause of the War, and had ungratefully refus’d to bear any part of the Expence of it. I send it you now, because I apprehend some late Incidents are likely to revive the Contest between the two Countries. I fear it will be a mischievous one. It becomes a Matter of great Importance that clear Ideas should be formed on solid Principles, both in Britain and America, of the true political Relation between them, and the mutual Duties belonging to that Relation. Till this is done, they will be often jarring. I know none whose Knowledge, Sagacity and Impartiality, qualify them so thoroughly for such a Service, as yours do you. I wish therefore you would consider it. You may thereby be the happy Instrument of great Good to the Nation, and of preventing much Mischief and Bloodshed. I am fully persuaded with you, that a consolidating Union, by a fair and equal Representation of all the Parts of this Empire in Parliament, is the only firm Basis on which its political Grandeur and Stability can be founded. Ireland once wish’d it, but now rejects it. The Time has been when the Colonies might have been pleas’d with it; they are now indifferent about it; and, if ’tis much longer delay’d, they too will refuse it. But the Pride of this People cannot bear the Thoughts of it. Every Man in England seems to consider himself as a Piece of a Sovereign over America; seems to jostle himself into the Throne with the King, and talks of OUR Subjects in the Colonies. The Parliament cannot well and wisely make Laws suited to the Colonies, without being properly and truly informed of their Circumstances, Abilities, Temper, &c. This it cannot be without Representatives from thence. And yet it is fond of this Power, and averse to the only Means of duly acquiring the necessary Knowledge for exercising it, which is desiring to be omnipotent without being omniscient.
I have mentioned that the Contest is like to be revived. It is on this Occasion. In the same Session with the Stamp Act, an Act was pass’d to regulate the Quartering of Soldiers in America. When the Bill was first brought in, it contain’d a Clause impowering the Officers to quarter their Soldiers in private Houses; this we warmly oppos’d, and got it omitted. The Bill pass’d however, with a Clause that empty Houses, Barns, &c. should be hired for them; and that the respective Provinces where they were, should pay the Expence, and furnish Firing, Bedding, Drink, and some other Articles, to the Soldiers, gratis. There is no way for any Province to do this, but by the Assembly’s making a Law to raise the Money. Pensilvania Assembly has made such a Law. New York Assembly has refus’d to do it. And now all the Talk here is to send a Force to compel them.
The Reasons given by the Assembly to the Governor for their Refusal, are, That they understand the Act to mean the furnishing such things to Soldiers only while on their March thro’ the Country, and not to great Bodies of Soldiers, to be fixt as at present in the Province, the Burthen in the latter Case being greater than the Inhabitants can bear: That it would put it in the Power of the Captain General to oppress the Province at pleasure, &c. But there is suppos’d to be another Reason at bottom, which they intimate, tho’ they do not plainly express it; to wit, that it is of the nature of an internal Tax laid on them by Parliament, which has no Right so to do. Their Refusal is here called Rebellion, and Punishment is thought of.”
Franklin went onto make a great many points as to why he felt the Parliament had no right to lay taxes on the colonists, as well as the mischief that would ensue if the British attempted to bring the colonists into submission. He ended his letter with an ominous prediction which the Parliament would not heed:
“Upon the whole, I have lived so great a Part of my Life in Britain, and have formed so many Friendships in it, that I love it and wish its Prosperity, and therefore wish to see that Union on which alone I think it can be secur’d and establish’d. As to America, the Advantages of such an Union to her are not so apparent. She may suffer at present under the arbitrary Power of this Country; she may suffer for a while in a Separation from it; but these are temporary Evils that she will outgrow. Scotland and Ireland are differently circumstanc’d. Confin’d by the Sea, they can scarcely increase in Numbers, Wealth and Strength so as to overbalance England. But America, an immense Territory, favour’d by Nature with all Advantages of Climate, Soil, great navigable Rivers and Lakes, &c. must become a great Country, populous and mighty; and will in a less time than is generally conceiv’d be able to shake off any Shackles that may be impos’d on her, and perhaps place them on the Imposers. In the mean time, every Act of Oppression will sour their Tempers, lessen greatly if not annihilate the Profits of your Commerce with them, and hasten their final Revolt: For the Seeds of Liberty are universally sown there, and nothing can eradicate them. And yet there remains among that People so much Respect, Veneration and Affection for Britain, that, if cultivated prudently, with kind Usage and Tenderness for their Privileges, they might be easily govern’d still for Ages, without Force or any considerable Expence. But I do not see here a sufficient Quantity of the Wisdom that is necessary to produce such a Conduct, and I lament the Want of it.”
What was the reaction to the quartering act from other colonies? Allow me to read you an article written by Samuel Adams and published in the Boston Gazette on October 17, 1768. The Castle to which he refers is an island that troops had been moved to, and were currently housed on, due to local resident anger over the quartering of troops in the town of Boston. One thing you will notice immediately is that Sam Adams was a man who did not mince words.
“Where Law ends, (says Mr. Locke) TYRANNY begins, if the Law be transgress’d to anothers harm”: No one I believe will deny the truth of the observation, and therefore I again appeal to common sense, whether the act which provides for the quartering and billeting the King’s troops, was not TRANSGRESS’D, when the barracks at the Castle WHICH ARE SUFFICIENT TO CONTAIN MORE than the whole number of soldiers now in this town, were ABSOLUTELY REFUS’D: This I presume cannot be contested. Should any one say that the law is not transgres’d “to anothers harm,” the assertion I dare say would contradict the feelings of every sober householder in the town. No man can pretend to say that the peace and good order of the community is so secure with soldiers quartered in the body of a city as without them. Besides, where military power is introduced, military maxims are propagated and adopted, which are inconsistent with and must soon eradicate every idea of civil government. Do we not already find some persons weak enough to believe, that an officer is oblig’d to obey the orders of his superior, tho’ it be even AGAINST the law! And let any one consider whether this doctrine does not directly lead even to the setting up that superior officer, whoever he may be, as a tyrant. It is morever to be observ’d that military government and civil, are so different from each other, if not opposite, that they cannot long subsist together. Soldiers are not govern’d properly by the laws of their country, but by a law made for them only: This may in time make them look upon themselves as a body of men different from the rest of the people; and as they and they only have the sword in their hands, they may sooner or later begin to look upon themselves as the LORDS and not the SERVANTS of the people: Instead of enforcing the execution of law, which by the way is far from being the original intent of soldiers, they may refuse to obey it themselves: Nay, they may even make laws for themselves, and enforce them by the power of the sword! Such instances are not uncommon in history, and they always will happen when troops are put under the direction of an ambitious or a covetous governor! And if there is any reason for fear that this may be the consequence of a transgression of the act of parliament, it is a transgression not “to the harm” of individuals only, but of THE PUBLICK. It behoves the publick then to be aware of the danger, and like sober men to avail themselves of the remedy of the law, while it is in their power. It is always safe to ADHERE TO THE LAW, and to keep every man of every denomination and character WITHIN ITS BOUNDS–Not to do this would be in the highest degree IMPRUDENT: Whenever it becomes a question in prudence, whether we shall make use of legal and constitutional methods to prevent the incroachments of ANY KIND OF POWER, what will it be but to depart from the straight line, to give up the LAW and the CONSTITUTION, which is fixed and stable, and is the collected and long digested sentiment OF THE WHOLE, and to substitute in its room the opinion of individuals, than which nothing can be more uncertain: The sentiments of men in such a case would in all likelihood be as various as their sentiments in religion or anything else; and as there would then be no settled rule for the publick to advert to, the safety of the people would probably be at an end.”
The Quartering Act of 1774 was not only shorter, but less burdensome than the 1765 act as well. In less than 400 words, Colonists were told that they must house, but not feed, British troops. They were to be given twenty-four hours’ notice that uninhabited houses, out-houses, barns, or “other buildings” deemed appropriate could be used. There was no language that ruled out the use of private homes.
Even though the Quartering Act of 1774 was a kinder and gentler version of the earlier act, it fanned the flames of unrest in the Colonies. The Declaration of Independence specifically referenced the maintenance of a standing army during a time of peace, quartering large bodies of armed troops, and imposing taxes without consent from the Colonies amongst the King’s injustices. The prohibition from quartering troops in private homes, as written in the Third Amendment to our Constitution, specifically stems from the Colonists’ reaction to the impositions thrust upon them by the Parliament in the Quartering Acts of 1765 and 1774. It was in the nature of our forefathers to resist impositions unjustly placed on them by governmental authorities.
How did the Quartering Acts set the stage for the Boston Massacre? Although there were barracks for British Troops on Castle Island (built with funds provided by the Colonists), another collection of acts, the Townshend Revenue Acts of 1767, had so angered local citizens that British Officers felt the need to have troops in close proximity to the port city of Boston. In an attempt to ruffle as few colonial feathers as possible, the officers decided to have troops “quartered” in a tent city of sort on the Boston Common rather than in private homes. However, the close proximity of the soldiers and outraged Bostonians quickly increased the level of conflict and ultimately resulted in the Boston Massacre.
Many of the documents I have referenced are available in their entirety on my website. We will learn about the Boston Massacre, as well as differences of opinions that arose between John Adams and his cousin Samuel during the next episode.
Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel encouraging you to remain motivated, vigilant, and engaged in the political process. Visit my website, www.bingoforpatriots.com, with more than 500 pages of documents, products, and information designed to motivate the modern patriot.
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