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Spiro Theodore Agnew

Spiro Theodore Agnew

Between the time of his nomination as Richard Nixon's running mate in August 1968 to his resignation in October 1973, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996) was a leading spokesman for those Nixon called "The Silent Majority" of Americans. The charge of bribe-taking, which forced Agnew's resignation from office, preceded by less than one year President Nixon's own resignation.

Spiro Theodore Agnew was born November 9, 1918, in Baltimore, Maryland, to Greek immigrant restaurant owner Theodore S. Anagnostopoulous and a Virginia-born widow named Margaret Akers. The family surname went through two changes after it left Gargaliani, Greece, metamorphosing from Anagnostopoulous to Aganost before arriving at Agnew. The elder Agnew lost his business during the Depression, but had restored his fortunes by the time his son was ready for high school. Agnew attended public schools in Baltimore before enrolling in Johns Hopkins University in 1937, where he studied chemistry. He was, in his own words, a "typical middle class youth" who spoke and wrote very well, gaining experience writing speeches for his father's many appearances before civic, ethnic, and community groups.

After three years of studying chemistry Ted Agnew transferred to law school at the University of Baltimore, where he attended night classes. He supported himself by working for an insurance company, where he met his future wife "Judy," Elinor Isabel Judefind.

Service in Two Wars

In September of 1941 Agnew became one of the early draftees in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's peace time Selective Service System. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Agnew was sent to Fort Knox to train as a tank officer. He married Judy after graduation in May 1942. Sent to the European theater, Agnew commanded a tank company in the 10th Armored Division, won the Bronze Star, took part in the Battle of the Bulge, and was discharged a captain.

He returned to civilian life with the great wave of hundreds of thousands of veterans seeking to recover their old lives or build new ones. The first of four children was born to Agnew and his wife in 1946, spurring Agnew to complete his interrupted legal studies in 1947. He had a good job with an insurance company and had just purchased a new home in Baltimore County when the Korean War broke out in 1950. Abruptly recalled to active duty for a year, he lost both his income and his home.

Successful Legal Career

Mustered out a second time, Agnew joined the lower management levels of a Baltimore supermarket chain. He was not only a skillful personnel manager, but developed a friendship with Judge Herbert Moser, who served on the company's board of directors. Moser helped him make connections, and soon Agnew's legal career took off.

Agnew had all the attributes of the successful American attorney. He was articulate, persuasive, flexible, knowledgeable, confident, well-groomed, and energetic. As clients became more numerous, the growing Agnew family prospered.

Entrance into Politics

Despite his growing law practice, or perhaps because of a desire to expand it, Agnew became involved in Baltimore County local politics. His father was a well-connected Democrat, and Agnew registered as a Democrat early in his adult life. A friend and associate, Judge E. Lester Barrett, persuaded him to switch to the Republican party where he began working for local and national campaigns. In 1957 he served his first public office when he was appointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals of Baltimore County. In 1960 he ran his first campaign, for associate circuit judge. Although he lost that election, the next year saw him winning the seat of Baltimore county executive, the first Republican to do so in seventy years.

His run as county executive was generally considered to be very successful, and he gained a popular following which served him well when he ran for governor of Maryland in 1966 and won. He ran against Democratic civil rights hard-liner and millionaire contractor, George Mahoney. Notwithstanding the overwhelming Democratic edge in registration, Agnew captured half of the votes, defeating Mahoney 453,000 to 371,000.

Turn to the Right

Governor Agnew proved to be a progressive, urban-oriented executive with moderate civil rights leanings and liberal credentials. While in office he passed tax reform, increased funding for anti-poverty programs, passed legislation removing barriers to public housing, repealed a law banning interracial marriage, spoke out against the death penalty, passed a more liberal abortion law, and drafted the nation's toughest clean water legislation. However, around the time of the urban riots and the rise of the anti-war movement in 1968, the tone and tolerance of Agnew's administration began to undergo alteration. He began arresting civil rights demonstrators, speaking harshly against the rising waves of protest, encouraging a sharp increase in police powers and the use of the military in civil disturbances.

At the 1968 Republican Convention in Miami Beach, Agnew was persuaded to place Richard Nixon's name in nomination. When Nixon won the nomination he accepted Agnew as his running mate. A key sentence uttered by Agnew in his vice presidential acceptance speech was, "I fully recognize that I am an unknown quantity to many of you." In truth, as the governor of a small southern state he was relatively unknown within the party. Former Vice President Nixon wanted someone who was a Southerner, an ethnic American, an experienced executive, a civil rights moderate, a proven Republican vote-getter with appeal to Democrats, and a law and order advocate. Agnew fit all these qualifications.

Agnew's strengths generally helped the ticket, although several of his racially offensive gaffs created momentary fears about the wisdom of the choice. The Nixon-Agnew victory over Humphrey-Muskie was close yet clear cut, with a half million popular votes separating victors and losers.

Vice President—and Resignation

As vice president, Agnew was assigned a then-unprecedented office in the White House and was urged to help shape federal-state policies and other domestic matters. He learned his job quickly, making up for a lack of foreign and national experience by attacking administration opponents through attention-getting speeches. Relying on a crack team of writers led by William Safire, Patrick Buchanan, and Cynthia Rosenwald, the vice president became noted for coining phrases, lashing out against college radicals, dissident intellectuals, American permissiveness, and a "liberal" media elite. In New Orleans on October 19, 1969, he lamented that "a spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals." At the Ohio State graduation ceremony of June 1969 he characterized the older generation's leadership as the "sniveling hand-wringing power structure." With these and similar speeches Agnew became widely known and much sought after as a speaker. The media became attracted to him and gave him considerable attention.

Resigning In Disgrace

Agnew won renomination to Nixon's team in 1972 and undoubtedly contributed to the overwhelming victory over McGovern-Shriver in that year. However, early into his second term he was advised that he was under investigation by federal prosecutors looking into allegations that he had regularly solicited and accepted bribes during his tenure as county executive and Maryland governor. As the cloud of Watergate began to envelope Richard Nixon and the presidency, the situation became increasingly untenable.

This intolerable political situation developed into an intricate plea bargaining process. As a result, federal authorities produced Agnew's "nolo contendere" plea of October 1, 1973. He pleaded no contest in Federal court to one misdemeanor charge of income tax evasion and was fined $10,000 and put on probation for three years. He was also forced to resign his office. His legal expenses, fines and other fees, totaling $160,000, were paid by his good friend Frank Sinatra. He was disbarred by the state of Maryland in 1974. The second of America's vice presidents to resign (John C. Calhoun had done so the previous century), Agnew was the only one to quit under a cloud of scandal.

After retreating from politics Agnew rearranged his life with considerable resiliency, becoming an international business consultant and the owner of several lucrative properties in Palm Springs, California, and in Maryland. He also wrote a best selling novel, The Canfield Decision (1986), and a book defending his record, Go Quietly … Or Else (1980), in which he suggests that Richard Nixon and Alexander Haig had planned his assassination if he refused to leave his post. In 1981 he was sued by three citizens of Maryland who sought to have the money he had reportedly received illegally from the state returned. After a few years of legal maneuvers the citizens won their case and Agnew had to reimburse $248,735 to the state coffers.

Agnew died of leukemia on September 17, 1996, at the age of 77.

Further Reading

The key to Spiro Agnew's importance to America lies in his speeches, which take up a good part of John R. Coyne, Jr.'s The Impudent Snobs (1972). Other collections are found in Spiro T. Agnew, Frankly Speaking (1970). Early biographies by Jim G. Lucas, Agnew Profile in Conflict (1970), and Robert Curran, Spiro Agnew: Spokesman For America (1970), shed light on Agnew's pre-vice-presidential career. His own book, Go Quietly … Or Else (1980), alleged his innocence of the charges that drove him from the office of vice-president. □

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"Spiro Theodore Agnew." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Agnew, Spiro

Spiro Agnew

Born: November 9, 1918
Baltimore, Maryland
Died: September 17, 1996
Ocean City, Maryland

American vice president and governor

Between the time of his nomination as Richard Nixon's running mate in August 1968 and his resignation in October 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew was a leading spokesman for "The Silent Majority," a term used by Nixon to describe conservative, middle-class, white American voters. After being found guilty of tax evasion, Agnew became the second United States vice president to resign from office. (John Calhoun, Andrew Jackson's vice president, resigned in 1832.)

The early years

Spiro Theodore Agnew was born November 9, 1918, in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the son of Theodore S. Agnew and his Virginia-born wife, Margaret Pollard Akers. Spiro Agnew was, in his own words, a "typical middle class youth" who spoke and wrote very well and gained experience writing speeches for his father's many appearances before ethnic and community groups.

Agnew attended public schools in Baltimore before enrolling in Johns Hopkins University in 1937, where he studied chemistry. After three years he transferred to law school at the University of Baltimore, where he attended night classes. He supported himself by working for an insurance company, where he met Elinor (Judy) Isabel Judefind, his future wife.

The war years

In September 1941 Agnew was drafted into the army, three months before the United States entered World War II (193945). After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Agnew was sent to Fort Knox to train as a tank officer. He married Judy in 1942 before leaving for combat duty in Europe. Agnew commanded a tank company, was awarded a Bronze Star (a medal given for outstanding service performed under combat conditions), and was discharged with the rank of captain. After his army discharge, Agnew went back to the University of Baltimore Law School and graduated in 1947. He completed advanced law studies at the University of Maryland in 1949 and passed the Maryland Bar (an association that oversees the state's lawyers) exam. He could now practice law in the state of Maryland.

After spending a brief time with a Baltimore law firm, Agnew moved to Towson, a suburb of Baltimore, and opened his own law practice. When the Korean War (195053) broke out, he was recalled to active duty for a year. (During the Korean war, the United States supported the government of South Korea in its fight against a takeover by the communist government of North Korea.)

Early political career

After returning from active military duty, Agnew restarted his own law firm and became involved in Baltimore County's local politics. He joined the Republican Party in 1956 and began working for national and local campaigns.

Agnew's first term in public office came in 1957 when he was appointed to a one-year term on the Baltimore County Zoning Board of Appeals. Agnew was reappointed for a three-year term in 1958 and eventually became the board chairman. He ran for associate circuit court judge in 1960, but lost, coming in fifth in a five-person race. Agnew then ran for chief county executive in 1962 and won. He was the first Republican executive elected in Baltimore County in seventy years.

From governor to vice president

Agnew's term as county executive was considered successful, and he became more popular. In 1966 he became the Republican candidate for governor of Maryland. His main opponent, George Mahoney, was strongly opposed to civil rights. Agnew defeated Mahoney and became the fifty-fifth governor of Maryland.

As governor, Agnew was known as a progressive leader with moderate civil rights beliefs. While in office he passed several tax reform laws, increased funding for antipoverty programs, repealed a law banning interracial marriage, spoke out against the death penalty, and drafted tough clean water legislation. However, by 1968 civil unrest had grown stronger throughout the United States. Protests had begun against the Vietnam War (a war in Vietnam fought from 1955 to 1975 in which the anti-Communist government of South Vietnam, supported by the United States, fought against a takeover by the Communist government of North Vietnam). Riots broke out in many major cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (19291968). Governor Agnew ordered state police to arrest civil rights demonstrators, encouraged the use of military force to control civil disturbances, and spoke out harshly against Vietnam War protesters.

At the 1968 Republican Convention in Miami Beach, Florida, Richard M. Nixon (19131994) was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate. Nixon chose Agnew as his vice presidential running mate. As part of his acceptance speech, Agnew said, "I fully recognize that I am an unknown quantity to many of you." Those who considered Agnew unqualified for national office began saying "Spiro who?" In truth, as the governor of a relatively small southern state, he was relatively unknown within the party. Nixon chose Agnew because he wanted someone who was a southerner, an ethnic American, an experienced executive, a civil rights moderate, and a proven Republican vote-getter with appeal to Democrats.

The Nixon-Agnew victory over Hubert Humphrey (19111978) and Edmund S. Muskie (19141996) was close but clear cut, with a half million popular votes separating winners and losers. After the election, Agnew became the first vice president to have a White House office when Nixon gave him an office in the West Wing.

Controversial speeches and illegal activities

As vice president, Agnew began using attention-getting speeches to attack opponents of the Nixon administration. Patrick Buchanan (1938), Cynthia Rosenwald, and William Safire (1929) drafted many of his speeches. The vice president soon became known for his verbal attacks against college radicals, American permissiveness, and the media. At Ohio State University's graduation ceremonies in 1969, Agnew criticized the students' parents, calling their leadership a "sniveling hand-wringing power structure."

Nixon again chose Agnew as his running mate for the 1972 elections, and they over-whelmingly defeated their Democrat opponents, George McGovern (1922) and R. Sargent Shriver (1921). Early in his second term as vice president, Agnew came under investigation for crimes supposedly committed while he was an elected Maryland official. He was accused of accepting bribes from engineers who wanted contracts with the state of Maryland. He was also accused of failing to report campaign contributions as income. The situation became increasingly tense when Nixon came under attack for his alleged involvement in a break-in at the Democratic Party's headquarters in the Watergate complex. There were rumors that both the president and the vice president might be impeached (tried in Congress for charges of misconduct in office).

The end of a political career

On October 1, 1973, Agnew pleaded "no contest" in federal court to one misdemeanor charge of income tax evasion. He was fined $10,000 and put on probation for three years. He was also forced to resign from office. Agnew's friend Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) loaned him $160,000 to pay legal expenses, back taxes, and other fees. Agnew was disbarred (not allowed to work as a lawyer) by the state of Maryland in 1974.

After leaving politics, Agnew became an international business consultant and the owner of several properties in Palm Springs, California, and in Maryland. In his 1980 memoir, titled Go Quietly or Else, Agnew implied that Nixon and Alexander M. Haig (1924), Nixon's chief of staff, planned to assassinate him if he refused to resign, and that Haig told him "to go quietly or else." Agnew also wrote a novel, The Canfield Decision (1986), about a vice president who was "destroyed by his own ambition."

In 1981 Agnew was sued by three citizens of Maryland who sought to have the money he had reportedly received illegally from the state returned. After a few years the citizens won their case, and Agnew had to reimburse $248,735 to the state.

Agnew died of leukemia in Ocean City, Maryland, on September 17, 1996, at the age of 77.

For More Information

Agnew, Spiro T. Go Quietly or Else. New York: Morrow, 1980.

Cohen, Richard M, and Jules Witcover. A Heartbeat Away; the Investigation and Resignation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. New York: Viking Press, 1974.

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Agnew, Spiro Theodore

Spiro Theodore Agnew (spēr´ō), 1918–96, 39th Vice President of the United States (1969–73), b. Baltimore. Admitted to the bar in 1949, he entered politics as a Republican and was elected (1961) chief executive of Baltimore co. He later became (1967) governor of Maryland, where he won passage of an open housing law and expanded the state's antipoverty programs. Nominated (1968) for the vice presidency on the Republican ticket with Richard M. Nixon, Agnew campaigned on a law-and-order platform. As Vice President, he attacked opponents of the Vietnam War as disloyal, criticized intellectuals and college students for questioning traditional values, and frequently accused the media of biased news coverage. In the 1970 congressional campaigns, he campaigned against liberals and antiwar candidates in both parties. Reelected with Nixon in 1972, Agnew was forced to resign on Oct. 10, 1973, after a Justice Dept. investigation uncovered evidence of corruption during his years in Maryland politics; he was said to have continued to accept bribes while Vice President. He pleaded no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion, was sentenced to three years' probation and fined $10,000, and was disbarred (1974) in Maryland.

See biographies by J. Alright (1972), T. Lipmann (1972), and J. Witcover (1972).

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"Agnew, Spiro Theodore." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Agnew, Spiro Theodore

Agnew, Spiro Theodore (1918–96) US statesman, vice president (1969–73) to Richard M. Nixon. Agnew served as governor of his native Maryland (1967–69). He was a staunch advocate of US involvement in the Vietnam War. Re-elected as vice president in 1972, he was forced to resign after the discovery of political bribery and corruption in Maryland. He did not contest further charges of tax evasion and was given a three-year probationary sentence and fined US$10,000.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents

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