by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that the Third Amendment is their favorite one—not even the most geeky law student I have known. Honestly, no one pays it much attention.
The Third Amendment reads: “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.”
Most people have heard of the idea that “a man’s home is his castle.” This is a phrase used by Englishman Sir Edward Coke, indicating a basic right of home and property that government should not infringe upon (“et domus sua cuique tutissimum refugium”).
Our homes are not only our legal, physical property, but our refuge—something much more than what is today called a “safe space.”
James Madison, the prime sponsor of the Bill of Rights, drew an analogy between the Third Amendment and the right he considered the most fundamental of all, the freedom of conscience.
Just as we possess rights of property, he argued, we possess a property in our rights. In this sense, conscience is the most sacred of all property:
To guard a man’s house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man’s conscience which is more sacred than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection, for which the public faith is pledged, by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact.
I think what Madison meant by a “debt of protection” was that American citizens—in fact, citizens of any free nation—possess not only rights, but responsibilities.
In other words, we should not only expect our government to protect our rights, but, by the very nature of the social compact we formed as free and equal human beings, each of us has pledged to defend and protect the rights of others.