The Battle of Athens – 1946

Posted by : Brian | On : January 24, 2014

Awhile back I posted about attending a gun control information forum (debate) between 4 of the political student organizations on campus. In that post, I summed up what I believed the 4 positions would say specifically about the 2nd amendment:

College Republicans: The 2nd amendment was designed so that citizens could protect themselves from bad guys.


Young Democrats at UW: The 2nd amendment was designed so that Americans could keep single shot, muzzle-loading muskets locked in a safe with a trigger lock. There’s no real purpose behind it.

Young Americans for Liberty: The 2nd amendment was designed so that citizens could fight off a tyrannical government.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I agree with the Young Americans for Liberty on this one. The gun control debate far too often surrounds itself with statistics about how many people are shot every year due to gun violence or how many people defend their homes with a firearm. That is all well and good and it is a very important discussion to have, but to argue that the 2nd amendment’s purpose is to protect yourself from home intruders or from the mugger down the back alley is simply false.

When you watch the Piers Morgan’s, the Chris Matthews’, the Rachel Maddows’, and (unfortunately) the Jon Stewart’s of the media, it’s absurd that civilians would ever use arms against a government. In fact, several of these liberal commentators have made jokes about it being a social fantasy of right wing extremists to start a revolution through the use of arms. Remember, the government IS the people (or so they say).

The use of arms against government tyranny is not some abstract fantastical-hypothetical paranoia-ful situation that really isn’t something we need to worry about. I can think of 2 clear cut cases in American history where it has been used for that very purpose. (Hint: One started the country and one is the title of the post)

The first one you hopefully know something about. The American Revolutionary War was people using arms against government tyranny. In a sense, this was a civil war. The “Americans” were at war with their own government. But this is not the point of this post.

This next example is.

Very few people know about the Battle of Athens in 1946. It happened in McMinn County, Tennessee (Were you thinking Greece?). Over the past few elections (beginning in 1936), McMinn County had been investigated for fraud and political corruption in the county elections. A man by the name of Paul Cantrell was the Democratic candidate for sheriff and was elected in 1936, 1938, and 1940 elections. In the next two elections (1942 and 1944), he was elected to the state senate while his former deputy, Pat Mansfield, was elected to sheriff.

Then comes 1946.

Oh wait, wait, wait…we forgot about 1945. What happened then? WWII ended and a bunch of soldiers came home from war. There were about 3,000 that returned to McMinn County. That’s important

Ok. NOW comes 1946.

In the 1946 elections, Paul Cantrell was running for sheriff again and Pat Mansfield was now running for state senate – they were determined to win. Unfortunately for them, some of these soldiers returning from the war decided to run against them on the platform of fraud-fee elections and the end of political corruption. At a rally, one of the GI speakers is quoted as saying:

“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.

August 1, 1946 – election day. While the polls were open, about 200 armed deputies turned out to patrol the precincts. This was odd as the usual number was approximately 15. Deputies decided to close the polls early and confiscated the ballot boxes and “count” them at the local jail. Of course, the citizens (veterans, mainly) knew that it would not be an open count and the possibility of the outcome being rigged was extremely likely.

This is tyranny.

The citizens took up their arms and marched to the jail. After being refused the ballot boxes, gunfire was exchanged between the citizens and the 55 deputies that were guarding the jail. Those inside the jail remained in the jail while waiting for backup from the National Guard. Before the National Guard arrived, however, the veterans blew the jail door with dynamite. At that time, the deputies were forced to surrender. The ballot boxes were returned and after having the votes counted, the 5 veterans that had run for office had been elected. Paul Cantrell and Pat Mansfield were unable to fraud their way back into their positions.

The 1992 movie “An American Story” depicts this battle, although minor details are off (as with any true story made into a movie). Here’s the 10 minute scene:

THIS is what the 2nd amendment is about – not about stopping a bad guy from taking your wallet.

Of course that’s important, too.

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