Spiro Agnew

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Spiro Agnew
Spiro Agnew.jpg
39th Vice President of the United States
In office
January 20, 1969 – October 10, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Hubert Humphrey
Succeeded by Gerald Ford
55th Governor of Maryland
In office
January 25, 1967 – January 7, 1969
Preceded by J. Millard Tawes
Succeeded by Marvin Mandel
Baltimore County Executive
In office
Preceded by Christian Kahl
Succeeded by Dale Anderson
Personal details
Born Spiro Theodore Agnew
(1918-11-09)November 9, 1918
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Berlin, Maryland, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Judy Judefind
Children Pamela
James Randy
Alma mater Johns Hopkins University (B.A.)
University of Baltimore (J.D.)
Religion Episcopalianism[1][2]
(Raised Greek Orthodox)
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1941–1945
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Bronze Star

Spiro Theodore Agnew (/ˈspɪr ˈæɡn/; November 9, 1918 – September 17, 1996) was an American politician who served as the 39th Vice President of the United States from 1969 to 1973, under President Richard Nixon.

Agnew was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and was a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and University of Baltimore School of Law. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1941, serving as an officer during the Second World War, and was recalled for service during the Korean War in 1950. Agnew worked as an aide for U.S. Representative James Devereux before he was appointed to the Baltimore County Board of Zoning Appeals in 1957. In 1960, he lost an election for the Baltimore City Circuit Court, but in 1962 was elected Baltimore County Executive. In 1966, Agnew was elected the 55th Governor of Maryland, defeating his Democratic opponent George P. Mahoney. He was the first Greek American to hold the position, serving between 1967 and 1969.

At the 1968 Republican National Convention, Agnew, who had earlier been asked to place Richard Nixon's name in nomination, was selected in private by Nixon and his campaign staff. He was then presented to the convention delegates for nomination for Vice President and ran alongside Nixon in the Presidential Election of 1968. Nixon and Agnew defeated the incumbent Vice President, Hubert Humphrey (formerly long-time Senator from Minnesota) and Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine. In 1972, Nixon and Agnew were reelected for a second term, defeating Senator George McGovern and Ambassador Sargent Shriver.

In 1973, Agnew was investigated by the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland on charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy. He was charged with having accepted bribes totaling more than $100,000 while holding office as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland, and Vice President. On October 10 that same year, Agnew was allowed to plead no contest to a single charge that he had failed to report $29,500 of income received in 1967, with the condition that he resign the office of Vice President. Nixon later replaced Agnew by appointing House Minority Leader Gerald Ford as Vice President. The following year, when Nixon was forced to resign from the White House due to the Watergate scandal, Ford assumed to the presidency.

Agnew was the second Vice President in United States history to resign, the other being John C. Calhoun, and the only one to do so because of criminal charges. Nearly ten years after leaving office, Agnew paid the state of Maryland nearly $270,000 as a result of a civil suit that stemmed from the bribery allegations. In describing Agnew, Garry Wills borrows the backhanded compliment once paid Coolidge by H.L. Mencken: "No man ever came to market with less seductive goods, and no man ever got a better price for what he had to offer." [3] Agnew is widely considered by historians to be among the worst Vice Presidents in the history of the United States.[4][5][6]

Early life

Spiro Agnew was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents were Theodore Spiros Agnew, a Greek immigrant who shortened his name from Anagnostopoulos (Αναγνωστόπουλος) (originally from Gargalianoi, Messenia) when he moved to the United States,[7][8] and Margaret Marian (Akers) Pollard Agnew, a native of Virginia.[9] Spiro had a half brother, Roy Pollard, from his mother's first marriage (she was widowed at the time she met Spiro's father).[9] Agnew was raised in his father's Greek Orthodox Church. His Greek family has direct lineage from the island of Chios.[10][11]

Agnew attended Forest Park Senior High School in Baltimore, before enrolling at Johns Hopkins University in 1937. He studied chemistry at Hopkins for three years.

Agnew was drafted into the United States Army in 1941 and was commissioned on May 25, 1942, upon graduation from Army Officer Candidate School.[12][13] He served with the 10th Armored Division[14] in Europe during World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in France and Germany.[12][14]

Before leaving for Europe, Agnew worked at the Maryland Casualty Company where he met Elinor Judefind, known as Judy.[15] Agnew married her on May 27, 1942.[13] They had four children: Pamela, James Rand, Susan and Kimberly.

Upon his return from the war, Agnew transferred to the evening program at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He studied law at night while working as a grocer and as an insurance salesman during the day. In 1947, Agnew received his LL.B. (later amended to Juris Doctor) and moved to the suburbs to begin practicing law. He passed the Maryland bar exam in June 1949.

Agnew was recalled to service with the Army in 1950 during the Korean War.[14]

Early political career

Spiro Agnew began his political career as the first president of the Loch Raven Community Council[16] and the President of the Dumbarton Junior High School PTA.[16] A Democrat from early youth, he switched parties and became a Republican. During the 1950s, he aided U.S. Congressman James Devereux in winning four successive elections. In 1957, he was appointed to the Baltimore County Board of Zoning Appeals by Democratic Baltimore County Executive Michael J. Birmingham. In 1960, he made his first run for office as a candidate for Judge of the Circuit Court, finishing last in a five-person contest. The following year, the new Democratic Baltimore County Executive, Christian H. Kahl, dropped him from the Zoning Board.

Agnew ran for election as Baltimore County Executive in 1962, seeking office in a predominantly Democratic county that had seen no Republican elected to that position in the 20th century, with only one (Roger B. Hayden) earning victory after he left. Running as a reformer and Republican outsider, he took advantage of a bitter split in the Democratic Party and was elected. Agnew backed and signed an ordinance outlawing discrimination in some public accommodations, among the first laws of this kind in the United States.

Governor of Maryland

Agnew ran for the position of Governor of Maryland in 1966. In this overwhelmingly Democratic state, he was elected after the Democratic nominee, George P. Mahoney, a Baltimore paving contractor and perennial candidate running on an anti-integration platform, narrowly won the Democratic gubernatorial primary out of a crowded slate of eight candidates, trumping early favorite Carlton R. Sickles. Coming on the heels of the recently passed federal Fair Housing Act of 1965, Mahoney's campaign embraced the slogan "your home is your castle, protect it."[17] Many Democrats opposed to segregation then crossed party lines to give Agnew the governorship by 82,000 votes.[citation needed]

As governor, Agnew worked with the Democratic legislature to pass tax and judicial reforms, as well as tough anti-pollution laws. Projecting an image of racial moderation, Agnew signed the state's first open-housing laws and succeeded in effecting the repeal of an anti-miscegenation law. However, during the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., in the spring of 1968, Agnew angered many African-American leaders when he stated in reference to their constituents, "I call on you to publicly repudiate all black racists. This, so far, you have been unwilling to do."[citation needed]

Vice Presidency (1969–1973)

Spiro Agnew is sworn in as vice-president in 1969. Front row, from left to right: Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Everett Dirksen, Spiro Agnew (with hand raised), Hubert Humphrey.

Agnew's moderate image, immigrant background, and success in a traditionally Democratic state made him an attractive running mate for the 1968 Republican presidential nominee, former Vice President Richard Nixon. As late as early 1968, Agnew was a strong supporter of Nelson Rockefeller, one of Nixon's opponents, but by June had switched to supporting Nixon.[18] At the 1968 Republican National Convention, Agnew's nomination was supported by many conservatives within the Republican Party, and by Nixon himself. However, a small band of delegates started shouting "Spiro Who?" and tried to nominate George W. Romney. In the end, Nixon's wishes prevailed, with Agnew receiving 1119 out of the 1317 votes cast.[citation needed]

During the ensuing general election campaign against Vice President Hubert Humphrey, which took place against a backdrop of urban riots and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, culminating in the violent confrontations at the Democratic convention in Chicago, Agnew repeatedly hammered the Democrats on the issue of "law and order." Agnew was considered something of a political joke at first. One Democratic television commercial featured the sounds of a man's hearty laughter as the camera panned to a TV with the words "Agnew for Vice President?" on the screen.[19][20][21]

Agnew went from his first election as County Executive to Vice President in six years—one of the fastest rises in US political history, comparable with that of Nixon, who became Vice President after four years in the House of Representatives and two years in the Senate. Agnew's vice presidency was also the highest-ranking US political office ever reached by either a Greek American or a Marylander.[citation needed]

Vice President Spiro Agnew (wearing gray blazer and sunglasses) and former President Lyndon B. Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11 from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center

Agnew soon found his role as the voice of the so-called "silent majority," and by late 1969 he was ranking high on national "Most Admired Men" polls. He also inspired a fashion craze when one entrepreneur introduced Spiro Agnew watches (a takeoff on the popular Mickey Mouse watch); conservatives wore them to show their support for Agnew, while many liberals wore them to signify their contempt.[citation needed]

Agnew was known for his scathing criticisms of political opponents, especially journalists and anti-war activists. Agnew would attack his adversaries with relish, hurling unusual, often alliterative epithets, some of which were coined by White House speechwriters William Safire and Pat Buchanan, including "pusillanimous pussyfooters," "nattering nabobs of negativism" (written by Safire) and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history."[22] In a speech denouncing the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, he characterized the war's opponents as "an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals."[23]

Agnew was often characterized as Nixon's "hatchet man" when defending the administration on the Vietnam War.[24] Agnew was chosen to make several speeches in which he spoke out against anti-war protesters and the media portrayal of the Vietnam War, labeling them "Un-American". However, he also spoke publicly against the actions of the Ohio Army National Guard that led to the Kent State shootings in 1970, even describing their action as "murder."

Despite Agnew's continued loyalty to the Nixon administration, his relationship with Nixon deteriorated almost from the start of their political affiliation. Although Nixon initially liked and respected Agnew, as time progressed he felt his vice president lacked the intelligence and vision, particularly in foreign affairs, to sit in the Oval Office, and he began freezing Agnew out of the White House decision-making process. By some accounts, the President was also resentful that the self-confident Agnew was so popular with many Americans. By 1970, Agnew was limited to seeing the president only during cabinet meetings or in the occasional and brief one-on-one, with Agnew given no opportunity to discuss much of substance.[citation needed]

Oval Office tapes reveal that in 1971, Nixon and his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, discussed their desire to have Agnew resign from office before the following year's campaign season. One plan to achieve this was to try to persuade conservative investors to purchase one of the television networks, and then invite Agnew to run it. Another was to see if Bob Hope would be willing to take Agnew on as his partner in his cable television investments. These and other plans never went beyond the talking stages.[25]

Nixon would have liked to replace Agnew on the Republican ticket in 1972 with John Connally, his chosen successor for 1976, but he realized that Agnew's large conservative base of supporters would be in an uproar, so he reluctantly kept him as his running mate. When John Ehrlichman, the President's counsel and assistant, asked Nixon why he kept Agnew on the ticket in the 1972 election, Nixon replied that "No assassin in his right mind would kill me" because they would get Agnew (as President).[26]

Agnew came to enjoy the privileges that being vice president brought to him, particularly access to the rich and famous. He became close friends with Frank Sinatra, Billy Graham, and Bob Hope, and consorted with leaders around the globe. He took in stride his newfound fame, as his utterances often made newspaper front pages and were major stories on the evening network news broadcasts. Invitations for Agnew to give speeches across the country flooded into his office, and he became a top fundraiser for the Republican Party.[citation needed]

Spiro Agnew congratulates launch control after the launch of Apollo 17 in 1972

In April 1973, when revelations about Watergate began to surface, Agnew was the choice of 35 percent of Republican voters to be the next Republican nominee for President, while then-California Governor Ronald Reagan was second on the Gallup poll.[27]


On October 10, 1973, Spiro Agnew became the second Vice President to resign the office. Unlike John C. Calhoun, who resigned to take a seat in the Senate, Agnew resigned and then pleaded no contest to criminal charges of tax evasion,[28] part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he was accused of accepting more than $100,000 in bribes[29] during his tenure as governor of Maryland. Agnew was fined $10,000 and received three years' probation.[30] The $10,000 fine covered only the taxes and interest due on what was "unreported income" from 1967. The plea bargain was later mocked by former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs as "the greatest deal since the Lord spared Isaac on the mountaintop."[31] Students of Professor John F. Banzhaf III from the George Washington University Law School, collectively known as Banzhaf's Bandits, found four residents of the state of Maryland willing to put their names on a case that sought to have Agnew repay the state $268,482, the amount it was said he had taken in bribes. After two appeals by Agnew, he finally wrote a check for $268,482 that was turned over to Maryland State Treasurer William S. James in 1983.[32]

As a result of his no contest plea, the state of Maryland later disbarred Agnew, calling him "morally obtuse".[33] As in most jurisdictions, Maryland lawyers are automatically disbarred after being convicted of a felony, and a no contest plea exposes the defendant to the same penalties as one would face with a guilty plea.[citation needed]

Agnew's resignation triggered the first use of the 25th Amendment, specifically Section 2, as the vacancy prompted the appointment and confirmation of Gerald Ford, the House Minority Leader, as his successor. This remains one of only two instances in which the amendment has been employed to fill a vice-presidential vacancy. The second time was when Ford, after becoming President upon Nixon's resignation, chose Nelson Rockefeller (originally Agnew's mentor in the moderate wing of the Republican Party) to succeed him as Vice President. Had Agnew remained as Vice President when Nixon resigned just 10 months later, Agnew himself would have become the 38th President, instead of Ford.[27]

Later life and death

After leaving politics, Agnew became an international trade executive with homes in Rancho Mirage, California; Arnold, Maryland; Bowie, Maryland; and near Ocean City, Maryland. In 1976, he briefly reentered the public spotlight and engendered controversy with what Gerald Ford publicly criticized as "unsavory remarks about Jews" and anti-Zionist statements that called for the United States to withdraw its support for the state of Israel, citing Israel's allegedly bad treatment of Christians.[34][35][36][37]

In 1980, Agnew published a memoir in which he implied that Nixon and his Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, had planned to assassinate him if he refused to resign the Vice Presidency, and that Haig told him to "go quietly...or else," the memoir's title.[38] Agnew also wrote a novel, The Canfield Decision,[39] about a Vice President who was "destroyed by his own ambition."[40]

Agnew always maintained that the tax evasion and bribery charges were an attempt by Nixon to divert attention from the growing Watergate scandal. After their resignations, Agnew and Nixon never spoke to each other again. As a gesture of reconciliation, Nixon's daughters invited Agnew to attend Nixon's funeral in 1994, and Agnew accepted. In 1996, when Agnew died, Nixon's daughters returned the favor by attending Agnew's funeral.[citation needed]

Agnew died on September 17, 1996, at age 77 at Atlantic General Hospital, in Berlin, Maryland, in Worcester County (near his Ocean City home), only a few hours after being hospitalized and diagnosed with an advanced, yet to that point undetected, form of leukemia. Agnew is buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, a cemetery in Timonium, Maryland, in Baltimore County in the Garden of the Last Supper section of the cemetery.[41]


Agnew's official portrait was taken down from the Maryland State House Governor's Reception Room from 1979 until 1995. Governor Parris Glendening stated that in re-including Agnew's portrait, it was not up to anyone to alter history, whether for good or bad; he cited the 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.[42]

Under the provisions of an 1886 Senate resolution, all former vice presidents are entitled to a portrait bust in the United States Capitol. Plans were set in motion for a bust of Agnew while he was still in office, but were shelved following his resignation. The idea was revived by the Senate Rules Committee in 1992 and a bust was commissioned from North Carolina artist William Behrends, for whom Agnew sat for four sessions. The bust was unveiled May 24, 1995, in the presence of Agnew, his family, friends, and onetime political supporters. Agnew made a short speech and was visibly moved by the occasion.[43] He appears in Futurama alongside President Nixon as his "headless bodyguard and vice president."

Electoral history

Baltimore County Executive, 1962[44]

  • Spiro Agnew (R)—elected unopposed

Governor of Maryland, 1966[45]

1968 Republican National Convention (Vice Presidential tally)[46]

United States presidential election, 1968

1972 Republican National Convention (Vice Presidential tally)[47]

  • Spiro Agnew (inc.)—1,345 (99.78%)
  • Abstaining—2 (0.15%)
  • David Brinkley—1 (0.07%)

United States presidential election, 1972


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  3. [Gary Wills, Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970), 277]
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  8. Spiro T. Agnew – Encyclopædia Britannica (Retrieved October 13, 2007)
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  15. Martin, Douglas. "Judy Agnew, Wife of Vice President, Dies at 91," The New York Times, Thursday, June 28, 2012.
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  18. "Gov. Agnew Hints A Swing To Nixon", The New York Times, June 12, 1968 (Page 29) Retrieved March 16, 2011
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  25. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1999-03-18/news/9903240359_1_nixon-and-haldeman-tapes-and-papers-oval-office-tapes
  26. Ehrlichmann, J.: Witness to Power: The Nixon Years, Simon & Schuster, 1982; ISBN 978-0-671-24296-1
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  28. Agnew, Spiro T., Go Quietly....or else, p. 15.
  29. Agnew, Spiro T.,Go Quietly...or else, pp. 16–17.
  30. 1973 Year in Review: Vice Presidency
  31. Patrick Mondout Veep Spiro Agnew Resigns Super70s.com
  32. Encyclopedia of White-Collar and Corporate Crime, Volume 1 Edited by Lawrence M. Salinger
  33. ABA Journal May 2009, http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/may_2_1974/
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  38. Agnew, Spiro T:: "Go Quietly...or Else". Morrow, 1980. ISBN 0-688-03668-6.
  39. Agnew, Spiro T:: "The Canfield Decision". Putnam Pub Group, 1976. ISBN 978-99975-54-87-1. OCLC 704061535.
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  42. Press Conference statement, April 13, 1995, http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/stagser/s1259/121/7044/html/7044.html
  43. United States Senate Art & History Home Page/Spiro T. Agnew, http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/art/artifact/Sculpture_22_00043.htm
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External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Christian Kahl
Baltimore County Executive
Succeeded by
Dale Anderson
Preceded by Governor of Maryland
Succeeded by
Marvin Mandel
Preceded by Vice President of the United States
Succeeded by
Gerald Ford
Party political offices
Preceded by Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominee
Succeeded by
Charles Stanley Blair
Preceded by Republican vice presidential nominee
1968, 1972
Succeeded by
Bob Dole