The 1946 Battle of Athens
Posted Feb 07th 2013 | By:
When ill-informed people speak of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, they speak only of how hunting is a noble right and sports shooting is a valid hobby. What is often left unsaid is that the Founding Fathers had intended this inherent right as a protection against tyranny of all sorts. An unarmed society is a society waiting to be enslaved. A legally armed one is a functioning republic. There is no better modern example of this than in the 1946 Battle of Athens.
Corrupt Local Officials
In McMinn County Tennessee, home to the towns of Athens and Etowah, there was in the 1930s and 40s an epidemic of corruption. Machine politics and the tyranny of rubber-stamping handpicked politicians made public policy for personal gain. A man from an influential local family, Paul Cantrell, had been elected to three consecutive terms as county sheriff. After winning a seat in the state senate, his Chief Deputy, Pat Mansfield, was elected county sheriff for two more terms. Between these two men, the county had the same administration for more than a decade.
(Smashed ballots and voting machines in Athens TN)
Although the US Department of Justice had received numerous complaints over that decade on the county, no action had been taken to correct the issues. Among the complaints were that deputies intimidated voters, broke the seals on ballot boxes, and threw out ballots for opponents, and launched campaigns to harass those who complained publicly. It was not uncommon for opponents of the sheriff and their supporters to be arrested and beaten, given bogus tickets, or quietly threatened with worse.
Then came the re-election of 1946, and a few things were different.
After the end of World War 2, some 3000 local veterans who had gone off to do their part in the fight with the Axis in Europe and the Pacific began to return home. With their eyes opened to the corruption at home and with determination to make a difference they began to enter politics. In August 1946, it looked like some of these veterans turned grass-roots politicians would win the election for sheriff and state senate among others. In a speech by these veterans, one said, "'The principals 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.'"
With the writing on the wall and the end of the Cantrell-Mansfield era looming, the current sheriff took action.
Election Day violence
On Election Day, Sheriff Mansfield brought 200 newly deputized posse members into the voting precincts, illegally closed them, and seized the ballot boxes, retreating with the boxes to the county jail where he would supervise the official count of the day's votes. This action, in direct violation of the state law, sparked a civil uprising.
Before the sun had fully set, hundreds of local citizens besieged the sheriff and his deputies inside the jail. Those laying siege to the county building were armed with everything from hunting rifles and shotguns to sticks of agricultural dynamite. Several of them were veterans and one happened to have the keys to the local National Guard Armory from which was soon issued out M1917 and M1 rifles as well as a few Colt 1911 pistols. With both sides at an impasse, shots rang out night until the veterans blew off the porch of the jail as a warning, which led to the surrender of the vastly outnumbered deputies.
Battle of Athens in under 3-minutes
When the ballots were collected and legally counted, both Cantrell and Mansfield suffered massive defeats at the voter's hands. Although the story was sensational and made national news, none of the estimated 2,000 besiegers of the McMinn County Jail was ever charged with a crime. The sheriff's department was replaced nearly to a man and an era of law enforcement without abuse of power came to the county under a new administration.
What about the guns from the armory seized by the citizens, you may ask? The borrowed National Guard hardware was returned before sunrise on August 2nd,
...and had been properly and expertly cleaned.
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