In August of 1946, The McMinn County War (Athens, TN), also called the Battle of Athens, was the name given to an outbreak of civil unrest between entrenched political corruption, and soldiers who had returned home from World War II. The problem was a result of Paul Cantrell running for sheriff again in 1946 – this after the man spent four years in the Tennessee State Senate. Although Pat Mansfield (Mr. Cantrell’s accomplice), had been sheriff in Cantrell’s absence, the two men had worked together to corrupt local government by – amongst other things – creating a system of fees that paid local officials for the number of people they arrested.
As the Tennessee State Library and Archives Site says, “Returning WWII soldiers, numbering near 3,000 in 1946 (about 10% of the area’s population), were fed up with the current method of justice. Ex-GI Knox Henry ran against Cantrell, and other GIs ran for several other positions in the local government.”
At a rally, a GI speaker 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.’” (Daily Post-Athenian, 17 June 1946, p. 1).
At end-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 Countians’ complaints of election fraud in 1940, 1942, and 1944. (Constitution.org)
Election day arrived on August 1, 1946, and Cantrell, worried that he might lose the election, had two hundred armed deputies watch the polls. After physically beating GIs, and a black man who attempted to vote, the deputies decided to move the ballot box to the local jail. A crowd had gathered, and frustrated GIs gathered weapons from the local armory. Firing on the jail until ammunition ran low, the GIs then began to lob dynamite at the structure – destroying the jail’s porch. The deputies in the jail surrendered at about 2 a.m., and by morning all violence had stopped.
The next day, a governing council was set up and “six men were chosen to police the county in the absence of the regular police, who had fled. After the certification of their victory, local GIs changed the method of payment of officials by limiting their salaries to $5,000, replaced county employees who resigned, and scoured out corruption in the government.” (Tennessee Archives)
As Constitution. org points out, the Battle of Athens clearly shows:
- how Americans can and should lawfully use armed force;
- why the Rule of Law requires unrestricted access to firearms;
- how civilians with military-type firearms can beat the forces of “law and order”.