Spiro Theodore Agnew (November 9, 1918 – September 17, 1996) was the 39th Vice President of the United States (and the first Greek American to serve in that capacity), serving under President Richard Nixon, and the 55th Governor of Maryland. He was also the first Greek American governor in United States history. 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 to date the only Vice President in U.S. 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.
| colspan="2" align="center" | [] | colspan="2" align="center" |Assumed Office| colspan="2" align="center" | January 20, 1969 and January 20, 1973 | colspan="2" align="center" |In Office| colspan="2" align="center" | 1960-November 1968
|Preceded by||Hubert Humhrey|
|Suceeded by||Gerald Ford|
|Alma Mater||Johns Hopkins University|
Spiro Agnew was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents were Theodore Spiros Agnew, a Greek immigrant who shortened his name from Anagnostopoulos when he moved to the USA, and Margaret Akers, a native of Virginia. 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, before joining the U.S. Army and serving 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 an insurance company where he met Elinor Judefind, known as Judy. Agnew married her on May 27, 1942. They eventually 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.
Early political careerEdit
Agnew, raised as a Democrat, switched parties and became a Republican. During the 1950s, he aided U.S. Congressman James Devereux in four successive winning election bids. He entered politics himself in 1957, upon his appointment 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 MarylandEdit
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". 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 by lecturing them about their constituents in stating, "I call on you to publicly repudiate all black racists. This, so far, you have been unwilling to do."
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, 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 wasn't identified with the Deep South, which might have turned off Northern centrists come election time. 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 Senator 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 "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. His Vice Presidency was the highest-ranking United States political office ever reached by either a Greek American citizen or a Marylander.
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 mocking 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". He once described a group of opponents as "an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals." In short, Agnew was 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 "Franco Un-American". 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 so 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 have replaced 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. The 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.
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 nolo contendere (no contest) to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering, part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he accepted $29,500 in bribes during his tenure as governor of Maryland. The bribes were paid to Agnew by some members of the construction industry to get their projects approved. When Agnew moved from Annapolis, Maryland to Washington, D.C., he continued to demand payments. Angered, the construction men turned government's witnesses. Agnew was fined $10,000 and put on three years' probation. The $10,000 fine only covered the taxes and interest due on what was "unreported income" from 1967. The plea bargain was later mocked as the "greatest deal since the Lord spared Isaac on the mountaintop", by former Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs. 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 he was known to have 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 James in early 1983. As a result of his nolo contendere plea, Agnew was later disbarred by the State of Maryland. As in most jurisdictions, Maryland lawyers are automatically disbarred after being convicted of a felony, and a nolo contendere 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.
After leaving politics, Agnew became an international trade executive with homes in Rancho Mirage, California; Arnold, Maryland; Bowie, Maryland; and 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." 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." Also in 1980, he considered, then decided against, running for Congress from Maryland. (ref. ABC News) Agnew also wrote a novel, The Canfield Decision, about a vice president who was "destroyed by his own ambition." 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." Agnew died suddenly on September 17, 1996, at the age of 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. He is buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, a cemetery in Lutherville-Timonium, Maryland in Baltimore County