1945: The Battle of Athens Tennessee
Posted in the London Forum
#1 Mar 16, 2013
"On August 1-2, 1946, some Americans, brutalized by their county government, used armed force as a last resort to overturn it. These Americans wanted honest open elections. For years they had asked for state or federal election monitors to prevent vote fraud (forged ballots, secret ballot counts and intimidation by armed sheriff's deputies) by the local political boss. They got no help.
These Americans' absolute refusal to knuckle under had been hardened by service in World War II. Having fought to free other countries from murderous regimes, they rejected vicious abuse by their county government.
These Americans had a choice. Their state's Constitution -- Article 1, Section 26 -- recorded their right to keep and bear arms for the common defense. Few "gun control" laws had been enacted.
These Americans were residents of McMinn County, which is located between Chattanooga and Knoxville in Eastern Tennessee. The two main towns were Athens and Etowah. McMinn County residents had long been independent political thinkers. For a long time they also had: accepted bribe-taking by politicians and/or the sheriff to overlook illicit whiskey-making and gambling; financed the sheriff's department from fines-usually for speeding or public drunkenness which promoted false arrests; and put up with voting fraud by both Democrats and Republicans.
The wealthy Cantrell family, of Etowah, backed Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 election, hoping New Deal programs would revive the local economy and help Democrats to replace Republicans in the county government. So it proved.
Paul Cantrell was elected sheriff in the 1936,1938 and 1940 elections, but by slim margins. The sheriff was the key county official. Cantrell was elected to the state senate in 1942 and 1944; his chief deputy, Pat Mansfield, was elected sheriff. In 1946 Paul Cantrell again sought the sheriff's office.
At the end of 1945, some 3,000 battle-hardened veterans returned to McMinn County; the GIs held Cantrell politically responsible for Mansfield's doings. Early in 1946, some newly returned ex-GIs decided to challenge Cantrell politically by offering an all-ex-GI, non-partisan ticket. They promised a fraud-free election, stating in ads and speeches that there would be an honest ballot count and reform of county government.
At a rally, a GI speaker said, "The principles that we fought for in this past war do not exist in McMinn County. We fought for democracy because we believe in democracy but not the form we live under in this county" (Daily Post-Athenian, 17 June 1946, p.1 ). At the end of July 1946, 159 McMinn County GIs petitioned the FBI to send election monitors. There was no response. The Department of Justice had not responded to McMinn County residents' complaints of election fraud in 1940, 1942 and 1944."
#2 Mar 16, 2013
"FROM BALLOTS TO BULLETS
The primary election was held on August 1. To intimidate voters, Mansfield brought in some 200 armed "deputies." GI poll-watchers were beaten almost at once. At about 3 p.m., Tom Gillespie, an African- American voter was told by a sheriff's deputy that he could not vote. Despite being beaten, Gillespie persisted. The enraged deputy shot him. The gunshot drew a crowd. Rumors spread that Gillespie had been shot in the back; he later recovered (C. Stephen Byrum, The Battle of Athens, Paidia Productions, Chattanooga, TN, 1987; pp. 155-57).
Other deputies detained ex-GI poll-watchers in a polling place, as that made the ballot counting "Public" A crowd gathered. Sheriff Mansfield told his deputies to disperse the crowd. When the two ex-GIs smashed a big window and escaped, the crowd surged forward. The deputies, with guns drawn, formed a tight half-circle around the front of the polling place. One deputy, "his gun raised high...shouted:'If you sons of bitches cross this street I'll kill you!'" (Byrum, p.165).
Mansfield took the ballot boxes to the jail for counting. The deputies seemed to fear immediate attack by the "people who had just liberated Europe and the South Pacific from two of the most powerful war machines in human history" (Byrum, pp. 168-69).
Short of firearms and ammunition, the GIs scoured the county to find them. By borrowing keys to the National Guard and State Guard armories, they got three M-1 rifles, five .45 semi-automatic pistols and 24 British Enfield rifles. The armories were nearly empty after the war's end. By 8 p.m. a group of GIs and "local boys" headed for the jail but left the back door unguarded to give the jail's defenders an easy way out.
Three GIs alerting passersby to danger were fired on from the jail. Two GIs were wounded. Other GIs returned fire.
Firing subsided after 30 minutes; ammunition ran low and night had fallen. Thick brick walls shielded those inside the jail. Absent radios, the GIs' rifle fire was uncoordinated. "From the hillside fire rose and fell in disorganized cascades. More than anything else, people were simply shooting at the jail" (Byrum, p.189).
Several who ventured into the street in front of the jail were wounded. One man inside the jail was badly hurt; he recovered. Most sheriff's deputies wanted to hunker down and await rescue. Governor McCord mobilized the State Guard, perhaps to scare the GIs into withdrawing. The State Guard never went to Athens. McCord may have feared that Guard units filled with ex-GIs might not fire on other ex-GIs.
At about 2 a.m. on August 2, the GIs forced the issue. Men from Meigs County threw dynamite sticks and damaged the jail's porch. The panicked deputies surrendered. GIs quickly secured the building. Paul Cantrell faded into the night, having almost been shot by a GI who knew him, but whose .45 pistol had jammed. Mansfield's deputies were kept overnight in jail for their own safety. Calm soon returned. The GIs posted guards. The rifles borrowed from the armory were cleaned and returned before sunup."
#3 Mar 16, 2013
"THE LESSONS OF ATHENS
Those who took up arms in Athens, Tennessee, wanted honest elections, a cornerstone of our constitutional order. They had repeatedly tried to get federal or state election monitors and had used armed force so as to minimize harm to the law-breakers, showing little malice to the defeated law-breakers. They restored lawful government.
The Battle of Athens clearly shows how Americans can and should lawfully use armed force and also shows why the rule of law requires unrestricted access to firearms and how civilians with military-type firearms can beat the forces of government gone bad.
Dictators believe that public order is more important than the rule of law. However, Americans reject this idea. Brutal political repression is lethal to many. An individual criminal can harm a handful of people. Governments alone can brutalize thousands, or millions.
Law-abiding McMinn County residents won the Battle of Athens because they were not hamstrung by "gun control " They showed us when citizens can and should use armed force to support the rule of law."
#4 Mar 17, 2013
When the entire democrat party is one missed welfare check from revolution. When the government attempts to stifle our rights. When the time is right.
#5 Mar 17, 2013
you chucklenuts. trying to tie todays politics to a 70 year old racial war.
a lot has changed since 1946
election watch committees
old white democrats have died off,
replaced by old white republicans
#6 Mar 17, 2013
It was simple voting irregularities and the vets "took their oath" with honor.
Let these "chuckleheads" go after one of the Bill of Rights. YJCMTSU
I also agree with the poster about paying the ignorant masses not to revolt. Welfare/Entitlements. Sorry if you had some D/R idealogy dream about why both parties call it "third rail" politics. It is really simple.
No representation without taxation!
#7 Mar 17, 2013
"Mrs. Roosevelt's column upon McMinn. She seems to have grasped the facts and significance better than any other outside writer:
McMinn A Warning — By Eleanor Roosevelt
New York, Monday — After any war, the use of force throughout the world is almost taken for granted. Men involved in the war have been trained to use force, and they have discovered that, when you want something, you can take it. The return to peacetime methods governed by law and persuasion is usually difficult.
We in the U.S.A., who have long boasted that, in our political life, freedom in the use of the secret ballot made it possible for us to register the will of the people without the use of force, have had a rude awakening as we read of conditions in McMinn County, Tennessee, which brought about the use of force in the recent primary. If a political machine does not allow the people free expression, then freedom-loving people lose their faith in the machinery under which their government functions.
In this particular case, a group of young veterans organized to oust the local machine and elect their own slate in the primary. We may deplore the use of force but we must also recognize the lesson which this incident points for us all. When the majority of the people know what they want, they will obtain it.
Any local, state or national government, or any political machine, in order to live, must give the people assurance that they can express their will freely and that their votes will be counted. The most powerful machine cannot exist without the support of the people. Political bosses and political machinery can be good, but the minute they cease to express the will of the people, their days are numbered.
This is a lesson which wise political leaders learn young, and you can be pretty sure that, when a boss stays in power, he gives the majority of the people what they think they want. If he is bad and indulges in practices which are dishonest, or if he acts for his own interests alone, the people are unwilling to condone these practices.
When the people decide that conditions in their town, county, state or country must change, they will change them. If the leadership has been wise, they will be able to do it peacefully through a secret ballot which is honestly counted, but if the leader has become inflated and too sure of his own importance, he may bring about the kind of action which was taken in Tennessee.
If we want to continue to be a mature people who, at home and abroad, settle our difficulties peacefully and not through the use of force, then we will take to heart this lesson and we will jealously guard our rights. What goes on before an election, the threats or persuasion by political leaders, may be bad but it cannot prevent the people from really registering their will if they wish to.
The decisive action which has just occurred in our midst is a warning, and one which we cannot afford to overlook."
#8 Mar 17, 2013
Unless they're smart and take your guns (and bullets) first.
#9 Mar 18, 2013
Then I will grow Castor Beans.
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