Spiro Agnew (Spiro Theodore Agnew)
Spiro Agnew, Governor of Maryland, US Vice President. A member of the Republican Party, he served a Maryland’s 55th governor from January 1967 Until January 1969 and then as US Vice President under President Richard M. Nixon from January 1969 until October 1973. Spiro Agnew is remembered as having to resign the vice presidency in disgrace prior to pleading no contest on failing to report almost $30,000 of income received in 1967. Born in Baltimore, Maryland his father immigrated from Greece and Americanized his surname from Anagnostopoulos to Agnew. After graduating from Forest Park Senior High School in Baltimore, he enrolled at Johns Hopkins University there in 1937, where he studied chemistry for three years. In 1941 he was drafted into the US Army and was commissioned an officer in May 1942, upon graduation from Army Officer Candidate School. He served with the 10th Armored Division in the European Theater of Operations during World War II and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in France and Germany. After the end of World War II, he returned to the US and took evening classes at the University of Baltimore School of Law, while working as a grocer and as an insurance salesman. In 1947 he received his Bachelor of Laws Degree (later amended to Juris Doctor), passed the Maryland bar exam in June 1949, and begin practicing law. In 1950 he was recalled by the US Army during the Korean War. He began his political career as the first president of the Loch Raven Community Council and during the 1950s, he aided US Congressman James Devereux in four successive winning election bids. In 1957 he was appointed to the Baltimore County Board of Zoning Appeals and 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. In 1962 he ran for election as Baltimore County Executive and was elected as its first Republican in the 20th century, taking advantage of a bitter split in the Democratic Party. During his term he backed and signed an ordinance outlawing discrimination in some public accommodations, among the first laws of this kind in the US. In 1966 he ran as the Republican candidate for Governor of Maryland and was elected, defeating the anti-integration Democratic candidate George P. Mahoney by winning many Democratic voters who were opposed to segregation. As governor, he worked with the Democratic legislature to pass tax and judicial reforms, as well as tough anti-pollution laws, signed the state’s first open-housing laws, and succeeded in effecting the repeal of an anti-miscegenation law. At the 1968 Republican National Convention, his nomination as Nixon’s running mate was supported by many conservatives within the Republican Party, and by Nixon himself, and was overwhelmingly voted ad the vice presidential candidate. The following November, he and Nixon defeated the Democratic challengers, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Edmund Muskie in the general election. He 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 was often characterized as Nixon’s “hatchet man” when defending the administration on the Vietnam War. He made 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 the Ohio Army National Guard that led to the Kent State shootings in 1970, even describing their action as “murder.” He toned down his rhetoric and dropped most of the alliterations after the 1972 election, with an eye on running for president in 1976. Despite his continued loyalty to the administration, his relationship with Nixon deteriorated, almost from the start of their political affiliation. Although he was initially liked and respected by Nixon, 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. Nixon desired to replace him 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 and they were elected to a 2nd term, defeating the Democratic nominees Senator George McGovern and US Ambassador Sargent Shriver. On October 10, 1973 he became the second Vice President to resign the office (the first one being John C. Calhoun, who resigned to take a seat in the US Senate). He 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. He was fined $10,000 and put on three years’ probation and disbarred. He was later sued to repay the bribes that he accepted and in 1983, after two appeals, he finally paid $268,482 to the State of Maryland. His 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. Nixon himself would resign the following year, in the wake of the Watergate Scandal. After leaving the vice presidency, he became an international trade executive. In 1980 he 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. He also penned a novel, “The Canfield Decision” (1976) about a Vice President who was destroyed by his own ambition. Following their resignations, he and Nixon never spoke to each other again. As a gesture of reconciliation, Nixon’s daughters Tricia and Julie invited him to attend Nixon’s funeral in 1994 and he accepted. When he died at the age of 77, Nixon’s daughters returned the favor by attending his funeral. A bust in his honor was unveiled in the US Capitol on May 24, 1995.