Spiro Agnew

Spiro Agnew
Spiro Agnew
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 H. Kahl
Succeeded by Dale Anderson
Personal details
Born November 9, 1918(1918-11-09)
Baltimore, Maryland
Died September 17, 1996(1996-09-17) (aged 77)
Berlin, Maryland
Resting place Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens

Lutherville-Timonium, Maryland

Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Judy Agnew
Children Pamela Agnew
James Rand Agnew
Susan Agnew
Kimberly Agnew
Residence Baltimore, Maryland
Alma mater Johns Hopkins University
University of Baltimore School of Law
Religion Episcopalian[1][2]
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Bronze Star Medal

Spiro Theodore Agnew (pronounced /ˈspɪroʊ ˈæɡnuː/; November 9, 1918 – September 17, 1996) was the 39th Vice President of the United States (1969–1973), serving under President Richard Nixon, and the 55th Governor of Maryland (1967–1969). He was also the first Greek American to hold these offices.

During his fifth year as Vice President, in the late summer of 1973, Agnew was under investigation by the United States Attorney's office in Baltimore, Maryland, on charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy. In October, he was formally charged with having accepted bribes totaling more than $100,000, while holding office as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland, and Vice President of the United States. On October 10, 1973, 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.

Agnew is the only Vice President in United States history to resign because of criminal charges. Ten years after leaving office, in January 1983, Agnew paid the state of Maryland nearly $270,000 as a result of a civil suit that stemmed from the bribery allegations.


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) when he moved to the United States,[3][4] and Margaret (Carter) Akers, a native of Virginia. Mrs. Akers was a widow, with two children from her first marriage, when she married Mr. Agnew.[citation needed]

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

Agnew was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941 and was commissioned an officer on May 25, 1942 upon graduation from Army Officer Candidate School.[5][6] He served with the 10th Armored Division[7] in Europe during World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service in France and Germany.[5][7]

Before leaving for Europe, Agnew worked at an insurance company where he met Elinor Judefind, known as Judy. Agnew married her on May 27, 1942.[6] 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. 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.

During the Korean War, he was recalled to service with the Army for one year.[7]

Early political career

Agnew, a Democrat from early youth, switched parties and became a Republican. During the 1950s, he aided U.S. Congressman James Devereux in four successive winning election bids. 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 elective 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, with Agnew loudly protesting, thereby gaining name recognition.

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 twentieth 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".[8] Many Democrats opposed to segregation then crossed party lines to give Agnew the governorship by 82,000 votes.

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 getting 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."

Vice Presidency

Spiro Agnew is sworn in as vice-president in 1969. 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. In line with what would later be called Nixon's "Southern Strategy", Agnew was selected as a candidate because he was sufficiently from the South to attract Southern moderate voters, yet was not identified with the Deep South, which might have turned off Northern centrists come election time.

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.[9] 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 place George W. Romney's name in nomination. In the end, Nixon's wishes prevailed, with Agnew receiving 1119 out of the 1317 votes cast.

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". Although considered something of a political joke at first—one Democratic television commercial featured hearty laughter as the camera panned to a TV with the words "Vice President Spiro Agnew?" on the screen—Agnew had the last laugh, as the Republican ticket carried 32 of the 50 states.

Agnew went from his first election as County Executive to Vice President in six years—one of the fastest rises in U.S. political history, comparable with that of Nixon himself 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 United States political office ever reached by either a Greek American citizen or a Marylander.

Vice President Spiro Agnew 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 take off on the popular Mickey Mouse watch); conservatives wore them to show their support for Agnew, while many liberals wore them to signify their contempt.

Agnew was known for his scathing criticisms of political opponents, especially journalists and anti-war activists. He attacked 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".[10] He once described a group of opponents as "an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals."

Agnew was often characterized as Nixon's "hatchet man" when defending the administration on the Vietnam War.[11] Agnew was chosen to make several powerful speeches in which he spoke out against anti-war protesters and media portrayal of the Vietnam War, labeling them "Un-American". He did however speak out 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". Agnew toned down his rhetoric and dropped most of the alliterations after the 1972 election, with a view to running for president himself in 1976.

However, despite his continued loyalty to the Administration, relations between Nixon and Agnew deteriorated, almost from the start of their professional relationship. Although Nixon initially liked and respected Agnew, as time went on he felt his vice president lacked the intelligence or 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 notoriously thin-skinned 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 anything of substance.

Oval Office tapes reveal that in 1971, Nixon and his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, discussed their desire to have Agnew resign from office prior to 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.

Nixon would have liked to replace Agnew on the Republican ticket in 1972 with John Connally, his chosen successor for '76, 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).[12] The eventual Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate, Sargent Shriver, was also a Marylander.

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 also took in stride his own 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.

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

In April 1973, when relevations 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. [13]


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,[14] part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he was accused of accepting more than $100,000 in bribes[15] during his tenure as governor of Maryland. Agnew was fined $10,000 and put on three years' probation.[16] The $10,000 fine only covered 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".[17] 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 and 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 resigned himself to the matter and a check for $268,482 was turned over to Maryland State Treasurer William S. James in early 1983.

As a result of his no contest plea, the State of Maryland later disbarred Agnew, calling him "morally obtuse".[18] 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 a guilty plea.

His resignation triggered the first use of the 25th Amendment, as the vacancy prompted the appointment and confirmation of Gerald Ford, the House Minority Leader, as his successor. It remains one of only two times that 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, as well as a strong candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976, both of which instead went to Ford.[13]

Agnew's official portrait was removed damnatione memoriae from the Maryland State House Governor's Reception Room from 1979 until 1995. Then-Governor Parris Glendening stated that in re-including Agnew's portrait that it was not up to anyone to alter history, whether for good or bad, citing Nineteen Eighty-Four. [19]

Later life

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 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, as well as what Gerald Ford publicly criticized as "unsavory remarks about Jews."[20][21][22][23]

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.[24] Agnew also wrote a novel, The Canfield Decision,[25] about a Vice President who was "destroyed by his own ambition."

Agnew always maintained that the tax evasion and bribery charges was an attempt by Nixon to divert attention away from the growing Watergate scandal. For the rest of their lives, 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 complied. In 1996, when Agnew died, Nixon's daughters returned the favor and attended Agnew's funeral.[26]

Agnew died suddenly on September 17, 1996, aged 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 Lutherville-Timonium, Maryland, in Baltimore County in the Garden of the Last Supper section of the cemetery, north of Padonia Road, and to the west side of the main entrance to the cemetery property.[27] His marker makes no reference to his attaining of elective office, a rarity among those who have held the office of Vice President.

Electoral history

Baltimore County Executive, 1962[28]

  • Spiro Agnew (R)—elected unopposed

Governor of Maryland, 1966[29]

1968 Republican National Convention (Vice Presidential tally)[30]

United States presidential election, 1968

1972 Republican National Convention (Vice Presidential tally)[31]

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

United States presidential election, 1972


  1. ^ "The religion of Spiro T. Agnew, U.S. Vice-President". Adherents.com. http://www.adherents.com/people/pa/Spiro_Agnew.html. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  2. ^ Noonan, Peggy (November 24, 2007). "People Before Prophets". Opinionjournal.com. http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110010893. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  3. ^ "U.S. Senate – Art & History – Spiro T Agnew, 39th Vice President". http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/VP_Spiro_Agnew.htm. 
  4. ^ Spiro T. Agnew – Encyclopedia Britannica (accessed October 13, 2007)
  5. ^ a b "Maryland Governor Spiro Theodore Agnew". National Governor's Association. http://www.nga.org/cms/home/governors/past-governors-bios/page_maryland/col2-content/main-content-list/title_agnew_spiro.html. Retrieved July 16, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Nation: Running Mate's Mate". Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,838602,00.html. Retrieved July 16, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c "Spiro T. Agnew (1918–1996)". State of Maryland. http://www.msa.md.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc3500/sc3520/001400/001486/html/1486bio.html. Retrieved July 16, 2011. 
  8. ^ "George Mahoney, 87, Maryland Candidate". The New York Times. March 21, 1989. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/21/obituaries/george-mahoney-87-maryland-candidate.html. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Gov. Agnew Hints A Swing To Nixon", The New York Times. June 12, 1968. Page 29. Retrieved March 16, 2011.
  10. ^ By LANCE MORROW Monday, Sept. 30, 1996 (September 30, 1996). "Morrow, L. "Naysayer to the nattering nabobs."". Time. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,985217,00.html. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  11. ^ Clines, Francis X. (September 19, 1996). "Spiro T. Agnew, Point Man for Nixon Who Resigned Vice Presidency, Dies at 77". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE5DA1F3AF93AA2575AC0A960958260. Retrieved November 28, 2007. 
  12. ^ Ehrlichmann, J.: Witness to Power: The Nixon Years. Simon & Schuster, 1982. ISBN 978-0671242961.
  13. ^ a b "Online NewsHour: Remembering Spiro Agnew – September 18, 1996". Pbs.org. September 18, 1996. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/remember/agnew_9-18.html. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  14. ^ Agnew, Spiro T., Go Quietly....or else, p. 15.
  15. ^ Agnew, Spiro T.,Go Quietly...or else, pp. 16–17.
  16. ^ 1973 Year in Review: Vice Presidency http://www.upi.com/Audio/Year_in_Review/Events-of-1973/Vice-Presidency/12305770297723-11/
  17. ^ Veep Spiro Agnew Resigns, By Patrick Mondout, Super70s.com
  18. ^ ABA Journal May 2009, http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/may_2_1974/
  19. ^ Press Conference statement, April 13, 1995, http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/stagser/s1259/121/7044/html/7044.html
  20. ^ "Agnew Asserts He Is Not a Bigot; Defends Right to Criticize Israel". The New York Times. July 31, 1976. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F6091FFB3E5B167493C3AA178CD85F428785F9. Retrieved November 28, 2007. 
  21. ^ "FORD SAYS AGNEW IS WRONG ON JEWS; Criticizes Comments Made in Novel and Interviews". The New York Times. June 26, 1976. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10F16FF385F167493C4AB178DD85F428785F9. Retrieved November 28, 2007. 
  22. ^ Safire, William (May 24, 1976). "Spiro Agnew and the Jews; ESSAY". The New York Times. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0611F6395F167493C6AB178ED85F428785F9. Retrieved November 28, 2007. 
  23. ^ "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe (Part II)". Archived from the original on October 10, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20071010110827/http://www.palestinechronicle.com/story-020907152349.htm. Retrieved November 28, 2007. 
  24. ^ Agnew, Spiro T:: "Go Quietly...or Else". Morrow, 1980. ISBN 0-688-03668-6.
  25. ^ Agnew, Spiro T:: "The Canfield Decision". Putnam Pub Group, 1976. ISBN 978-9997554871.
  26. ^ "Agnew, Spiro". Newworldencyclopedia.org. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Spiro_Agnew. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  27. ^ See http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=2383, accessed September 3, 2010
  28. ^ "Baltimore County, MD Executive Race – November 6, 1962". Our Campaigns. http://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=37412. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  29. ^ "MD Governor Race – November 8, 1966". Our Campaigns. http://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=7018. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  30. ^ "US Vice President – R Convention Race – August 5, 1968". Our Campaigns. http://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=59943. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  31. ^ "US Vice President – R Convention Race – August 21, 1972". Our Campaigns. http://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=59900. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Hubert Humphrey
Vice President of the United States
January 20, 1969 – October 10, 1973
Title next held by
Gerald Ford
Preceded by
J. Millard Tawes
Governor of Maryland
January 27, 1967 – January 9, 1969
Succeeded by
Marvin Mandel
Preceded by
Christian H. Kahl
Baltimore County Executive
Succeeded by
Dale Anderson
Party political offices
Preceded by
William E. Miller
Republican Party Vice Presidential nominee
1968, 1972
Succeeded by
Bob Dole
Preceded by
Frank Small, Jr.
Republican Party nominee for Governor of Maryland
Succeeded by
Stanley Blair

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