The Quartering Act of 1765: Definition, Summary & Facts

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  • 0:00 The Quartering Act of 1765
  • 1:05 Why A 'Quartering' Act?
  • 2:36 What Did the…
  • 3:33 What the Quartering Act Did Do
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mark Pearcy
The American Revolution wasn't just about 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' - it was also about rights that were more grounded in real life. The Quartering Act of 1765 was seen by many Americans as a violation of those rights and was a contributing factor in the Revolution.

The Quartering Act of 1765: When Your Home Is not Your Castle

We've all heard about the anger Americans felt towards Great Britain in the 1760s and 1770s, leading to the American Revolutionary War. And, we could all recite the phrases that formed the cornerstone of our resistance: 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' the truths that are 'self-evident,' and so forth. But at the end of the day, the anger was first and foremost about fairness, as in, it's not fair to tax us without giving us a say in it.

The Quartering Act of 1765 hits a similar sore spot. It's not just about human rights or philosophy, but fairness. The idea that a person's property belongs, first and foremost, to him or her, and the idea that it is fundamentally unfair to violate that idea. The Quartering Act,the British law that ordered American governments to provide housing for British soldiers, struck Americans as deeply unfair, and maybe more importantly, supremely irritating.

Why a 'Quartering' Act?

In 1763, the French and Indian War ended with two important outcomes: an enormous British victory over their traditional enemy France and an equally tremendous imperial debt. Britain spent an inordinate amount of money in winning the war, and the spoils of that victory, a huge amount of land in North America, now required even more investment, as the territory had to be garrisoned, administered, and protected. That meant more soldiers, which meant more taxes.

One of the major problems for the British in dealing with a far-flung, enormous empire wasn't just the issues of defense (fighting off opposing armies, Native American raids, and so forth), but the administrative issues that defense brought up, such as housing soldiers. Getting the troops from point A to point B, especially when the two points are divided by 3,000 miles of ocean, is difficult enough. But, this was the eighteenth century, and building bases and installations around the world wasn't really tenable for an army at that time. There might have been a fort here and there, primarily on the frontier, but what do you do when your intent is to base troops in large urban areas where space is at a premium anyway? Housing and feeding a group of several hundred, or even a few thousand, soldiers was a difficult and costly proposition. The Quartering Act came into being because the British were looking for a solution to exactly this problem.

What Did the Quartering Act Not Do?

The solution was the Quartering Act. There were ultimately two of these laws passed, one in 1765 and one in 1774. It's important to establish first what the Quartering Act did not do, because it's become a matter of urban legend. The act did not require Americans to house British soldiers in their private dwellings. Colonial governments would have to house British soldiers in some manner, but it was restricted to barracks provided by the colonies. If those were too small, they could use local inns, livery stables, ale houses, and the houses of wine sellers. If even that wasn't enough, they could move to uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns, or other buildings. One thing that was not included was colonists' homes. So, the fanciful image of Redcoats throwing poor Americans out of their own front doors is actually false.

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