Battle of Athens

Battle of Athens

We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.

Abraham Lincoln

The veterans of World War II are now old, and mostly frail.  It is hard to remember them as most of them were during the War:  young, tough and determined.  After they got home, those who made it through the War, they would make many changes in our society, as they proved themselves to be one of the most consequential generations in American history.  On August 1-2, 1946, veterans in Athens, Tennessee demonstrated just how consequential.

Athens is the county seat of McMinn County in Eastern Tennessee, between Knoxville and Chattanooga.  Since the Civil War, up to the 1930s, McMinn County, like most of Eastern Tennessee, was largely Republican, reflecting the pro Union stance of their ancestors during the War.  With the coming of the Great Depression, Democrat political machines began to take power in much of Eastern Tennessee.  Many of these local machines were quite corrupt.  Paul Cantrell was elected Sheriff as a Democrat in 1936.  Cantrell came from a family of power and influence.  Many locals suspected that his election was a fraud, with ballot boxes having been switched to give Cantrell the victory.

Cantrell after the election became virtual dictator of McMinn County.  He and his deputies collected vast sums by shaking down citizens for petty offenses.  Buses passing through the County would be stopped by deputies and the passengers subjected to on the spot fines for pretended misdemeanors.  Cantrell fostered prostitution, gambling and bars throughout the County, carefully receiving his cut of the proceeds.   After 1936 elections were farcial with ballot boxes confiscated from precincts by Cantrell’s deputies and the counting, supposed to be done in public under Tennessee law, conducted behind locked doors in the McMinn County jail.  With the Tennessee Democrat governor a firm political friend of Cantrell, the citizens opposed to Cantrell and his de facto dictatorship were helpless.  The Justice Department investigated the County on charges of vote fraud in 1940, 1942 and 1944, but without any prosecutions.  Cantrell was elected to the State Senate in 1942 and 1944.  His deputy Pat Mansfield was elected sheriff.  Whatever office he held, everyone in McMinn County knew that Cantrell continued to call the tune.

However, change was coming.  McMinn County had a military tradition.  It had sided with the Union in the Civil War, and in 1898 it had declared war against Spain two weeks before Congress did!  During World War II, some 3,526 of McMinn County’s young men went off to fight, representing some ten percent of the entire population of the Country.  When those who survived the War came back they had changed, as Paul Cantrell was going to find out. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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