Elliot Richardson

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The Honorable
Elliot Richardson
24th United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
February 2, 1976 – January 20, 1977
President Gerald Ford
Preceded by Rogers Morton
Succeeded by Juanita M. Kreps
22nd United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
In office
February 20, 1975 – February 2, 1976
President Gerald Ford
Preceded by Walter H. Annenberg
Succeeded by Anne Armstrong
69th United States Attorney General
In office
May 25, 1973 – October 20, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Richard Kleindienst
Succeeded by William B. Saxbe
Robert Bork (acting)
11th United States Secretary of Defense
In office
January 30, 1973 – May 24, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Deputy Bill Clements
Preceded by Melvin Laird
Succeeded by James R. Schlesinger
9th United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
In office
June 24, 1970 – January 29, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Robert Finch
Succeeded by Caspar Weinberger
25th Under Secretary of State
In office
January 23, 1969 – June 23, 1970
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Nicholas Katzenbach
Succeeded by John N. Irwin II
52nd Massachusetts Attorney General
In office
January 18, 1967 – January 23, 1969
Governor John A. Volpe
Preceded by Edward T. Martin
Succeeded by Robert H. Quinn
62nd Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
In office
January 7, 1965 – January 2, 1967
Governor John A. Volpe
Preceded by Francis X. Bellotti
Succeeded by Francis W. Sargent
United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts
In office
Preceded by Anthony Julian
Succeeded by Wendell Arthur Garrity Jr.
Personal details
Born Elliot Lee Richardson
(1920-07-20)July 20, 1920
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, Virginia
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Anne Francis Hazard Richardson (1929–1999)[1]
Children Henry S. Richardson (son)

Nancy H. Carlson (daughter)

Michael E. Richardson (son)
Alma mater Harvard University (A.B., J.D.)
Religion Unitarian
Awards Purple Heart
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1942–1945
Rank First Lieutenant
Unit 4th Infantry Division (Medical Corps)
Battles/wars World War II

Elliot Lee Richardson (July 20, 1920 – December 31, 1999) was an American lawyer and politician who was a member of the cabinet of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. As U.S. Attorney General, he was a prominent figure in the Watergate Scandal, and resigned rather than obey President Nixon's order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Richardson served as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1970 to 1973, Secretary of Defense from January to May 1973, Attorney General from May to October 1973, and Secretary of Commerce from 1976 to 1977. That makes him one of only two individuals to have held four Cabinet positions within the United States government (the other such individual being George Shultz).

Early life and military service

Richardson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Clara Lee (née Shattuck) and Edward Peirson Richardson,[2] a doctor and professor at Harvard Medical School.[3][4] He was a Boston Brahmin, descended from the earliest Puritan settlers in New England.[3]

Richardson attended the Park School in Brookline, Massachusetts, and then obtained his undergraduate degree from Harvard College, where he resided in Winthrop House, graduated cum laude in 1941, and was an editor of the Harvard Lampoon.

In 1942, following America's entry into World War II, Richardson entered the combat medical corps in the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. He participated in the June 6, 1944, Normandy Invasion as a platoon leader, where he crossed a minefield to rescue a fellow officer whose foot was blown off.[5]

He was among the first troops of the "Big Ivy" to come up Causeway No. 2 from Utah Beach, which had been under fire from German artillery at Brécourt Manor. He was among the many who noticed the guns ceasing their firing after (unbeknownst to him), paratroopers of the 101st under Lieutenant Richard Winters had knocked them out. After Stephen Ambrose's book Band of Brothers was published, Richardson wrote to Winters and thanked him.

He continued on in the war in Europe with the 4th Infantry Division and received the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster in lieu of a second award. He was discharged in 1945 with the rank of first lieutenant.

In 1947, he graduated from Harvard Law School. While at Harvard he became editor and president of the Harvard Law Review.[6]

After his graduation from Law School, Richardson clerked for United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Judge Learned Hand, and then for Justice Felix Frankfurter of the Supreme Court of the United States. Richardson then served as U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts from 1959 to 1961, and was later elected the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and Attorney General of Massachusetts. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958.[7]

Richardson's older son, Henry S. Richardson, is a professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, where he focuses in moral and political philosophy.

Richardson was also an active Freemason as a member of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and a 33rd Degree Freemason in the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.[8]

Cabinet career

Richardson had the distinction of serving in three high-level Executive Branch posts in a single year—the tumultuous year of 1973 – as the Watergate Scandal came to dominate the attention of official Washington, and the American public at large. He served three relatively uneventful years as the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for a popular sitting President. In September 1970, Richardson was present at the funeral of Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt as part of America's delegation. He secretly met with Anwar Sadat, Nasser's successor to discuss a possible peace process with the United States.[9]

Richardson was appointed United States Secretary of Defense on January 30, 1973. When President Nixon selected Richardson as Secretary, the press described him as an excellent manager and administrator, perhaps the best in the cabinet. In his confirmation hearing, Richardson expressed agreement with Nixon's policies on such issues as the adequacy of U.S. strategic forces, NATO and relationships with other allies, and Vietnam.[citation needed]

Although he promised to examine the budget carefully to identify areas for savings, and in fact later ordered the closing of some military installations, he cautioned against precipitate cuts. As he told a Senate committee, "Significant cuts in the Defense Budget now would seriously weaken the U.S. position on international negotiations—in which U.S. military capabilities, in both real and symbolic terms, are an important factor." Similarly, he strongly supported continued military assistance at current levels. During his short tenure, Richardson spent much time testifying before congressional committees on the proposed FY 1974 budget and other Defense matters.[10]

Richardson would serve as Secretary of Defense for only a few short months before becoming Nixon's Attorney General, a move that would soon put him in the Watergate spotlight.[11]

In October 1973, after Richardson had served just five months as Attorney General, President Nixon ordered him to fire the top lawyer investigating the Watergate scandal, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson had promised Congress he would not interfere with the Special Prosecutor, and, rather than disobey the President or break his promise, he resigned. President Nixon subsequently asked Richardson's second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, to carry out the order. He too had promised to not interfere, and also tendered his resignation. The third in command, Solicitor General Robert Bork, also planned to resign, but Richardson persuaded him not to in order to ensure proper leadership at the Department of Justice during the crisis.[12] Bork carried out the President's order, thus completing the events generally referred to as the Saturday Night Massacre.

Just before the resignation of Vice-President Spiro Agnew, Richardson was portrayed as a cartoon figure with Agnew and Nixon on the cover of Time Magazine dated October 8, 1973.[13] Agnew was quoted as saying: "I am innocent of the charges against me. I will not resign if indicted!"[14] Agnew later claimed the prosecution which eventually drove him from office was pushed by Richardson for the specific reason that the Attorney General wished to be nominated as the next vice-president, which would either give him the inside track for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976, or, should Nixon resign over Watergate, elevate Richardson to the presidency. Richardson denied then and later taking any extraordinary steps in the investigation of Agnew, instead leaving the task up to the U.S. Attorney in Baltimore.[citation needed]

In 1974, Richardson received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.[15]

During the Gerald Ford administration, Richardson served as Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1975–76 and as United States Secretary of Commerce from 1976-77.[citation needed]

Richardson's acceptance in 1975 of the appointment as Ambassador to the Court of St. James, as it is formally titled, effectively eliminated him from the domestic scene during the pre-election period. In departing for that position, he indicated to reporters that he would not run unless Ford decided against running.[16]

From 1977 to 1980, he served as an Ambassador at Large and Special Representative of President Jimmy Carter for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and head of the U.S. delegation to the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea.[17]

Later life

In 1980 Richardson received an honorary degree from Bates College. In 1983 Richardson was admitted as an honorary member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. In 1984, he ran for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul Tsongas. Although Richardson was favored to win the seat, he was defeated in the GOP primary by more conservative candidate Ray Shamie,[18] who lost the general election to John F. Kerry.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Richardson was associated with the Washington, D.C., office of the New York City law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, of which John J. McCloy was a founding partner. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Richardson was the attorney for Inslaw, Inc., an American software company which alleged that its software had been pirated by the U.S. Justice Department. In 1994, Richardson backed President Bill Clinton during his struggle against Paula Jones' charge of sexual harassment. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.[citation needed]


On December 31, 1999, Richardson died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of 79. Major media outlets, such as CNN, recognized him as the "Watergate martyr" for refusing an order from President Nixon to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

A widower, he was survived by three children, a sister and a brother. [19]


Richardson was the author of two books. The Creative Balance: Government, Politics, and the Individual in America's Third Century was published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1976. Reflections of a Radical Moderate was published by Westview Press in 1996. Reflections expresses his outlook:

I am a moderate – a radical moderate. I believe profoundly in the ultimate value of human dignity and equality. I therefore believe as well in such essential contributions to these ends as fairness, tolerance, and mutual respect. In seeking to be fair, tolerant, and respectful I need to call upon all the empathy, understanding, rationality, skepticism, balance, and objectivity I can muster.[20]


  1. "Anne Richardson Obituary". New York Times July 29, 1999. July 29, 1999. Retrieved February 19, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Richardson, Edward Peirson, 1881-1944. Papers, 1875-1931: A Finding Aid", Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine. Harvard Medical Library and Boston Medical Library, August 19, 2004
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lewis, Neil A. (January 1, 2000). "Elliot Richardson Dies at 79; Stood Up to Nixon and Resigned In 'Saturday Night Massacre'". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. http://www.wargs.com/political/cheney.html
  5. "Elliot Richardson Dies at 79; Stood Up to Nixon and Resigned In 'Saturday Night Massacre'". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Butterfield, Fox (February 6, 1990). "First Black Elected to Head Harvard's Law Review". NYT. Retrieved March 24, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter R" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 10, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Elliot Richardson Papers", Library of Congress. Cf. Box 3 : 436
  9. Video on YouTube
  10. "SecDef Histories – Elliot Richardson". Secretary of Defense. Retrieved December 30, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Doyle, James (1977). Not Above the Law: the battles of Watergate prosecutors Cox and Jaworski. New York: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-03192-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Nissman, David M. (October 13, 1998). "Interview with Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. Keeney" (PDF). U.S. Attorneys' Bulletin. 47 (2, Cumulative Index): 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 27, 2008. Retrieved December 30, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Time Magazine Cover: Spiro Agnew". TIME.com. October 8, 1973. Retrieved December 30, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Agnew Takes on the Justice Department". TIME. October 8, 1973. Retrieved December 30, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. http://www.jeffersonawards.org/pastwinners/national
  16. "Elliot Lee Richardson". 2005 West's Encyclopedia of American Law. The Encyclopedia.com.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Richardson, Elliot L. (Spring 1980). "Power, Mobility and the Law of the Sea". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved April 22, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Article Preview).
  18. Kornacki, Steve (January 5, 2011) The Republicans who should fear the Tea Party the most, Salon.com
  19. "Elliot Richardson dies". nytimes.com. January 1, 2000. Retrieved August 5, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Richardson, Elliot (1996). Reflections of a Radical Moderate (preface). Pantheon Books; ISBN 978-0-679-42820-6.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Francis X. Bellotti
Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Francis W. Sargent
Preceded by
Nicholas Katzenbach
Under Secretary of State
Succeeded by
John N. Irwin II
Preceded by
Robert H. Finch
United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
June 24, 1970 – January 29, 1973
Succeeded by
Caspar Weinberger
Preceded by
Melvin Laird
U.S. Secretary of Defense
Served under: Richard Nixon

January 30, 1973 – May 24, 1973
Succeeded by
James R. Schlesinger
Preceded by
Rogers Morton
U.S. Secretary of Commerce
Served under: Gerald Ford

Succeeded by
Juanita M. Kreps
Legal offices
Preceded by
Edward W. Brooke
Attorney General of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Robert H. Quinn
Preceded by
Richard G. Kleindienst
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: Richard Nixon

May 24, 1973 – October 20, 1973
Succeeded by
William B. Saxbe
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Walter H. Annenberg
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
Anne L. Armstrong