Spiro Theodore Agnew (/ˈspɪroʊ ˈæɡnuː/; 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, serving 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 duringWorld War II, 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. He lost election for the Baltimore City Circuit Court in 1960, but was later elected Baltimore County Executive in 1962. In 1966, Agnew was elected the 55th Governor of Maryland, defeating his perennial Democraticopponent George P. Mahoney. He was the first Greek American to hold the position, serving between 1967 and 1969.
At the 1968 Republican National Convention, former County Executive nowGovernor of Maryland (for only a year and a half), Spiro T. Agnew who had earlier been asked to place Richard Nixon's name in nomination of the presidency (for the second time since 1960), was selected in private in the upstairs hotel rooms of Miami by Nixon and his campaign staff, then presented to the convention delegates for nomination for Vice President; he ran alongside the party's presidential nominee, former Vice President Richard Nixon in the continuing Presidential Election of 1968. Nixon and Agnew defeated the incumbent 38th Vice President, Hubert Humphrey( formerly long-time U. S. Senator from Minnesota) and Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine, in the 1968 presidential election. 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's office for the District of Maryland, on charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery, andconspiracy. He was charged with having accepted bribes totaling more than $100,000 while holding office as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland, and later 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 appointingHouse Minority Leader Gerald Ford to the office of Vice President.
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. Critics have cited him as being one of the worst Vice Presidents in American history. He is the only Greek-American Vice President, making him the highest Greek-American politician to have served in the United States.
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, and Margaret Marian (Akers) Pollard Agnew, a native of Virginia. Spiro had a half brother, Roy Pollard, from his mother's first marriage (she was widowed at the time she met Spiro's father). Agnew was raised in his father's Greek Orthodox Church. His Greek family has direct lineage from the island of Chios.
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 U.S. Army in 1941 and was commissioned an officer on May 25, 1942, upon graduation fromArmy Officer Candidate School. He served with the 10th Armored Division in Europe during World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service in France and Germany.
Before leaving for Europe, Agnew worked at the Maryland Casualty Company where he met Elinor Judefind, known as Judy. Agnew married her on May 27, 1942. 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.
Agnew was recalled to service with the Army in 1950 during the Korean War.
Early political career
Spiro Agnew began his political career as the first president of the Loch Raven Community Council and the President of the Dumbarton Junior High School PTA. A Democrat from early youth, he 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 ExecutiveMichael 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, 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 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." Many Democrats opposed tosegregation 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 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."
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. 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 alienated 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. At the1968 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.
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.
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 citizen or a Marylander.Vice President Spiro Agnew (wearing gray blazer and sunglasses) and former President Lyndon B. Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11from 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.
Agnew was known for his scathing criticisms of political opponents, especially journalists and anti-war activists. Emulating the "blistering blue barnacles" verbal style of Tintin's Captain Haddock with striking similarity, Agnew 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." 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."
Agnew was often characterized as Nixon's "hatchet man" when defending the administration on the Vietnam War. 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". However, he did speak out publicly against the actions of theOhio 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.
Despite Agnew's continued loyalty to the 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.
Oval Office tapes reveal that in 1971, Nixon and his chief of staff, Bob 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.
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).
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.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. Resignation
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, part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he was accused of accepting more than $100,000 in bribes during his tenure as governor of Maryland. Agnew was fined $10,000 and put on three years' probation.
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." Students ofProfessor 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". 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.
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, which instead went to Ford.
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-Zioniststatements that called for the United States to withdraw its support for the state of Israel, citing Israel's allegedly bad treatment of Christians.
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. Agnew also wrote a novel, The Canfield Decision, about a Vice President who was "destroyed by his own ambition."
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.
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.
Agnew's official portrait was removed damnatione memoriae 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.
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.
Baltimore County Executive, 1962
- Spiro Agnew (R)—elected unopposed
Governor of Maryland, 1966
- Spiro Agnew (R)—455,318 (49.50%)
- George P. Mahoney (D)—373,543 (40.61%)
- Hyman A. Pressman (I)—90,899 (9.88%)
1968 Republican National Convention (Vice Presidential tally)
- Spiro Agnew—1,119 (83.95%)
- George Romney—186 (13.95%)
- Abstaining—16 (1.20%)
- John Lindsay—10 (0.75%)
- Edward Brooke—1 (0.08%)
- James A. Rhodes—1 (0.08%)
United States presidential election, 1968
- Richard Nixon/Spiro Agnew (R)—31,783,783 (43.4%) and 301 electoral votes (32 states carried)
- Hubert Humphrey/Edmund Muskie (D)—31,271,839 (42.7%) and 191 electoral votes (13 states and D.C. carried)
- George Wallace/Curtis LeMay (American Independent)—9,901,118 (13.5%) and 46 electoral votes (5 states carried)
1972 Republican National Convention (Vice Presidential tally)
- Spiro Agnew (inc.)—1,345 (99.78%)
- Abstaining—2 (0.15%)
- David Brinkley—1 (0.07%)
United States presidential election, 1972
- Richard Nixon/Spiro Agnew (R) (inc.)—47,168,710 (60.7%) and 520 electoral votes (49 states carried)
- George McGovern/Sargent Shriver (D)—29,173,222 (37.5%) and 17 electoral votes (1 state and D.C. carried)
- John Hospers/Theodora Nathalia Nathan (Libertarian)—3,171 (0.00%) and 1 electoral vote (Republican faithless elector)
- John G. Schmitz/Thomas J. Anderson (AI)—1,100,868 (1.4%) and 0 electoral votes
- Linda Jenness/Andrew Pulley (Socialist Workers)—83,380 (0.1%)
- Benjamin Spock/Julius Hobson (People's)—78,759 (0.1%)
|Relation name||Relation type||Description|
|1||Richard Nixon||Coworker, Idea mate, Opponent|
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