“It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government.” —Thomas Paine
Corruption in McMinn County
On August 1st and 2nd of 1946, patriotic Americans used armed force to ensure a fair outcome in local elections. Voter fraud was running rampant, with forged ballots and secret vote counts commonplace. Federal authorities were asked to intervene, but the calls for oversight fell on deaf ears.
Fighting Tyranny Abroad & at Home
Many of the Americans calling for the abolition of corruption, and the tyranny it was breeding, were World War Two veterans whose wartime experiences made them determined not to have fought against tyranny abroad, only to find it taking root in their own communities of Athens and Etowah, Tennessee.
Paul Cantrell was elected sheriff three times back-to-back, in ’36, ’38, and ’40, and elected state senator in ’42 and ’44. Cantrell’s associate, Pat Mansfield, was elected sheriff in his stead during Cantrell’s senate years. And, in 1946, Cantrell decided he would have the office of sheriff back again for himself.
But, at the end of 1945, some 3,000 veterans, seasoned by hard fighting in the European and Pacific theaters of war, returned home to McMinn County. These veterans decided to put up one of their own to run as a candidate for sheriff in the primary election against Cantrell. These ex-GIs promised honest elections to the voters as a part of their reform plan for the county government, in which the sheriff played a key role. Other GIs stood for election to office as well.
Bullets to Guarantee Ballots
During the August 1st primary election, 200 armed men were brought in by political leaders to act as “deputies” at the polls. GI poll-watchers were beaten by these men. At 3:00 PM, Tom Gillespie, a black man, was told by a deputy not to vote. When Gillespie persisted, he was shot, and a crowd gathered. The rumor that ran through the town was that Gillespie had been shot in the back! (Gillespie eventually recovered.)
Poll-watchers were not allowed into the area where ballots were to be counted, and Sheriff Mansfield ordered his “deputies” to disperse the public. One of the deputies raised his gun and called out, “If you sons of bitches cross this street I’ll kill you!”
The GIs decided to find themselves some weaponry and take matters into their own hands. The National Guard and State Guard armories had American M-1 rifles, British Enfield rifles, and some .45 caliber pistols.
The Battle of Athens
GIs were shot at from the jail, as they warned people to get away for their own safety. Two GIs were hit. Without proper communications, the GIs found it difficult to coordinate their attack on the jail, in the gun battle that ensued. Some citizens were wounded on the street, and one of Mansfield men inside the jail was shot as well.
By 2:00 AM, on August 2nd, the GIs had decided to throw some dynamite, damaging the jail’s porch, and the deputies surrendered. The GIs took control of the jail and held the deputies there overnight, until calm was restored to the town. The GIs cleaned and returned the guns they had borrowed to the armories. With the ballots counted transparently in public, the GI candidate for sheriff, Knox Henry, won his election—and other GI candidates won as well—by a 3-to-2 margin.
After the Test Comes the Lesson
The Battle of Athens demonstrates how American patriots can restore the rule of law, by legitimately ousting corrupt, scofflaw politicians, by force of arms. America’s Founders saw the entire American people as being a standing militia, ready to defend their freedom from invasion or against tyranny. Indeed, the Second Amendment to the US Constitution reads thus: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
Thomas Jefferson, upon expressing the American philosophy of governance in the words of the Declaration of Independence, wrote the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” It was this principle in action that the World War Two veterans of Athens, Tennessee, were executing.
In America’s Declaration of Independence, the 27 complaints against the British Crown are outlined, framed in terms of an American philosophy of human rights. But the Golden-Rule-based solutions to righting the wrongs complained about do not find proper expression until the framing of the Constitution, which stands as a blueprint for freedom across time and place.
The Battle of Athens stands as a spirited example of what good, patriotic Americans can do to protect their fellows from government tyranny. In an era where illegal-alien voting and other balloting irregularities are taking place on a regular basis in our country, it is a lesson Americans should be careful never to forget.
The Battle of Athens: The Video
Watch a short dramatization of the Battle of Athens here:
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