Citizens defeat tyranny: a cautionary example from 1946

Collectivists and progressives that now control all three branches of the U.S. government often claim that citizen uprisings against the government are invariably seditious, illegal, and treasonous.

U.S. history does not confirm that point of view.

As late as 1946 a group of citizens did, indeed, mount an armed uprising against government officials, and won. Their victory was even noted publicly by the U.S. Congress, which included a hearty congratulatory commendation by a Tennessee Congressman.

When American GIs were returning home after having served their country in World War II, saving the world from destruction at the hands of Nazi Germany and totalitarian Japan, they slowly reintegrated themselves into the local communities they left behind.

But one group of GIs returned home to east Tennessee only to find that the county government had fallen into the hands of incredibly corrupt politicians who wielded their power like Mafia thugs over the citizens who cowered in fear.

At the forefront of the localized tyranny was one Paul Cantrell, who was elected sheriff in McMinn County, of which the town of Athens is the county seat. The wealthy Cantrell family had backed Franklin Delano Roosevelt for president and were determined to implement New Deal programs on a small scale in McMinn County, even if they had to engage in outright fraud to do so.

For decades the residents of the county had taken pride in the fact that their local politics had been free from divisive partisanship, corruption, and fraud. But during World War II the Cantrell family decided to take advantage of the absence of significant numbers of residents who went away to fight in the war.

Paul Cantrell, thus, was elected sheriff by razor thin margins in 1936, 1938, and 1940. In 1942 and 1944 Cantrell ran for and was elected to the state legislature. And in 1944 Cantrell saw to it that a crony, Pat Mansfield, was elected sheriff. There were widespread reports of voter fraud, corruption, and bullying by local government officials.

In 1946, Cantrell was ready to leave the legislature and run for sheriff once again.

But at the end of 1945 over 3,000 soldiers had returned home to McMinn County. They were appalled by what they saw. The war veterans blamed Cantrell and Mansfield for creating a scenario in which fraud flourished.

Thus, the veterans decided to launch a major campaign against Cantrell which focused on cleaning up the county. These brave, honorable citizens, and those who supported them, wanted to rid county government of graft, dishonesty, dirty deals conducted under the table, and bullying.

Their tactic would be to offer a ballot for county offices on which could be found the names of no candidate but ex-GIs who pledged to work toward the clean-up.

One GI, who spoke at a rally, stated,

“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 ).

The GIs requested that the FBI send poll watchers to make sure no fraud would be committed. They received no response whatsoever from the FBI. Similar requests were sent to the FBI in 1940, 1942, and 1944. Again, the FBI did not respond.

At the primary election, Sheriff Mansfield sent in 200 armed deputies to “watch the polls.” But his real motive was to prevent those who supported the GIs from voting. A confrontation ensued. A black resident was told by the Mansfield people that he would not be allowed to vote. The result was that the man was beaten and shot by Mansfield’s thugs. Witnesses said that one of the armed deputies had shot him in the back.

Mansfield ordered some of the GIs detained on election day. Tensions escalated. Fearing the ire of the GIs Mansfield took the ballot boxes to the country jail to be counted. But this only further incensed county residents.

But the GIs were running low on firearms and needed many more in order match Manfield’s deputy thugs. The GIs scoured the county looking for the arms they needed, including the National Guard, State Guard, and local militias. They came away from the search with three M-1 rifles, five .45 semiautomatic pistols, and 24 British Enfield rifles.

With theses arms and the ones they already had, the GIs headed to the jail. Three GIs who had stopped residents to warn them to stay away from the area were fired upon and wounded by county deputies at the jail. Other GIs returned fire upon the deputies.

The fighting that ensued and its conclusion is described by JPFO:

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.

In the end the GIs won the election and their victory was properly certified. A system was put into place that would greatly lessen the risk of fraud and corruption in county government and elections. A more complete description of these events can be found here, including reaction by major newspapers across the country.

Thus, when government becomes so corrupt that it loses the respect, support, and confidence of decent, honest citizens, the Athens experience shows that the taking up of arms to use against the forces of government tyranny is the honorable thing to do, proving that honorable, honest, and corruption-free government can be restored by taking away the power of dirty politicians — by force if necessary.

ALERT! BRAND NEW!

A new entry has been posted on my blog at The Liberty Sphere under the section, “Musings After Midnight.” It is titled, “With ear to the ground, more rumblings heard from the political landscape.”

NOTICE.

Read one of my most popular entries on my blog in the popular series, Musings After Midnight, titled, “The Stealth War.

My series “Musings After Midnight” is now indexed at my blog, The Liberty Sphere.

Cross Posted with Permission.

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