Agnew, Spiro

views updated May 17 2018

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.

Agnew, Spiro Theodore

views updated May 17 2018

Agnew, Spiro Theodore

(b. 9 November 1918 in Baltimore, Maryland; d. 17 September 1996 in Berlin, Maryland), vice president of the United States who resigned and pleaded no contest to charges of tax evasion.

Agnew grew up in a Democratic household. His father, Theodore Spiro Agnew, whose name was originally Anagnostopolous, emigrated from Greece in 1897, and his mother, Margaret Akers, was a native of Virginia. Theodore Agnew owned a large restaurant, the Piccadilly, in downtown Baltimore and was a national leader in the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. In his youth Spiro Agnew was a member of the Sons of Pericles, which was affiliated with his father’s Greek fraternal organization.

Attending Baltimore public schools, including Public School 69, Garrison Junior High School, and Forest Park High School, Agnew graduated in February 1937. He then studied as a chemistry major at Johns Hopkins University until 1939, when he transferred to the University of Baltimore Law School, taking night classes while working as a clerk and assistant underwriter for the Maryland Casualty Company.

In September 1941 Agnew was drafted into the U.S. Army. After training at Camp Croft, South Carolina, he attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he was commissioned a second lieutenant on 24 May 1942. Serving as a company commander in the Tenth Armored Division, Agnew spent almost half of the war in combat and earned a Bronze Star. On 27 May 1942 he married Elinor Isabel Judefind. They had four children.

Upon returning from World War II in 1945, Agnew completed his law studies in 1947. He passed the bar in the same year and moved with his family to the Baltimore suburb of Towson, where he opened a law office. Like many other second-generation Americans of this era, Agnew distanced himself from the Old Country. He converted from the Greek Orthodox religion of his parents to Episcopalian. When he moved to the suburbs, Agnew asked others to address him as “Ted” rather than his given name.

It was in the suburbs that Agnew became politically active. At the urging of a senior law associate, who advised that the minority party would offer less competition and more opportunity for political advancement, he switched to the Republican party. He became active in the local Kiwanis Club, the Veterans of Foreign Wars post, and the Towson Parent Teacher Association. In 1956 he played a leadership role in the success of a referendum that established home rule for Baltimore County. As a result of these efforts, in 1957 Agnew was named to the county’s zoning board of appeals, which dealt with the suburbs but not the city of Baltimore. His reappointment to the board in 1961 was denied by the county council’s Democratic majority, but the slight attracted public sympathy for Agnew. Running for Baltimore County executive in 1962, he prevailed despite a Democratic registration edge of about four to one.

As the first Republican county executive in sixty-seven years, Agnew gained statewide prominence. During his four-year term he improved the county’s water and sewage systems, built new schools, approved higher salaries for teachers, established a human rights commission, and enacted a public accommodations law. Agnew ran for governor of Maryland in 1966 and defeated the segregationist Democrat George M. Mahoney to become only the fifth Republican chief executive in the state’s history. Many African Americans and liberal white Democrats crossed party lines to support Agnew.

In his first year as governor Agnew fulfilled most of his campaign promises. He obtained a graduated income tax, enacted the first statewide open housing law south of the Mason-Dixon line, repealed the state law banning racial intermarriage, increased state aid to antipoverty programs, signed a more liberal abortion law, and promoted tough water pollution regulations. He appointed more blacks to senior governmental roles than any previous Maryland governor.

Agnew also became a player in national politics. An early leader of the movement to draft Nelson Rockefeller for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination, Agnew was embarrassed when the New York governor dropped out of the race on 21 March without giving him advance notice. After this snub Agnew began positioning himself to the right. In April he had more than 200 black students arrested for refusing to leave the state capitol. During the rioting in Baltimore in 1968 following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Agnew rebuked the city’s moderate black leadership for their silence. Agnew also renounced the Reverend Ralph Abernathy’s march on Washington, D.C., that year. In the process Agnew moved from liberal Republican to law-and-order conservative.

When Rockefeller changed his mind and became an active candidate, Agnew shunned him and delivered the nominating speech for Nixon at the Republican National Convention on 7 August 1968. His speech hailed Nixon as “the one man whom history has so clearly thrust forward, the one whom all America will recognize as a man whose time has come.” The next day Nixon chose Agnew as his running mate. Agnew acknowledged that his name was “not exactly a household word” and said that Nixon’s phone call was “a bolt from the blue.” Agnew, tall and well-groomed, was chosen partly because of his ethnic background and crossover appeal to traditionally Democratic constituencies.

In the fall campaign Agnew was Nixon’s hatchet man. Agnew attacked the Democratic presidential nominee Hubert H. Humphrey as “soft on communism” and “squishy soft” on Vietnam. Agnew, who was unaccustomed to national press coverage, was embarrassed by reports that he used ethnic slurs while traveling on his campaign plane. The Democrats, seeking to make Agnew’s inexperience a campaign issue, aired a television commercial in which a voice asked, “Spiro Agnew for vice president?” This was followed by laughter, then the narrator’s voice said, “This would be serious if it wasn’t so funny.”

After Nixon’s victory, Agnew became the administration’s most visible and controversial spokesperson. Law and order was a recurring theme in his speeches. “I will not lower my voice until the restoration of sanity and order will allow a quiet voice to be heard again,” he told a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, audience in November 1969. That same month he delivered a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, that labeled television commentators “a tiny fraternity of privileged men elected by no one and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by the government.” He later referred to critics of the Vietnam War as “an effete corps of impudent snobs” and “sunshine patriots.”

Agnew’s attacks on political opponents were harsh and personal. During the 1970 midterm election he referred to the liberal New York senator Charles E. Goodell as “the Christine Jorgensen of Republican politics” (Jorgensen had gained notoriety for a sex-change operation). He denounced the Republican representative from California Paul Mc-Closkey as “a Benedict Arnold” for challenging Nixon’s renomination in the 1972 New Hampshire primary. In November 1972 Nixon and Agnew were easily reelected. As Nixon became entangled in the Watergate controversy, Agnew loomed as the heir apparent.

Early in his second term, in 1973, Agnew became the subject of a federal investigation. The Justice Department obtained evidence that Agnew had been accepting illegal cash payments from contractors for more than a decade, while he was county executive, governor, and vice president. With Nixon’s future in doubt because of Watergate, Attorney General Elliot Richardson plea-bargained with Agnew to prevent him from moving up to the presidency. On 10 October 1973 Agnew resigned as vice president. He soon pleaded no contest to a single count of tax evasion in a federal courtroom in Baltimore. Agnew was placed on three years probation and was fined $10,000. He was disbarred in May 1974. Even though the government released overwhelming proof that he took bribes and kickbacks, Agnew vehemently denied all charges except tax evasion.

“My decision to resign and enter a plea of nolo contendere rests on my firm belief that the public interest requires swift disposition of the problems which are facing me,” Agnew said in the courtroom. “I admit that I did receive payments during the year 1967, which were not expended for political purposes and that, therefore, these payments were income taxable to me in that year and that I so knew.”

Agnew blamed Nixon for his downfall. “We were never close,” he said in 1976. “I haven’t seen him and have no desire to see him.” But when Nixon died in 1994, Agnew went to his funeral. “I decided after twenty years of resentment to put it all aside,” he said.

After leaving office Agnew split his time between homes in Rancho Mirage, California, and Ocean City, Maryland, working as an international business broker. Among his chief benefactors was King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. In May 1995 Agnew returned to the Capitol for the unveiling of his vice presidential bust outside the Senate chamber. He said he understood that some people felt it was “an honor I don’t deserve.” But, he continued, the sculpture “has less to do with Spiro Agnew than the office I held.” Agnew died of leukemia at the age of seventy-seven and is buried in Delaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, Maryland.

Agnew’s political memoir is Go Quietly … or Else (1980). Jules Witcover, White Knight: The Rise of Spiro Agnew (1972), is the most authoritative biography, and Richard M. Cohen and Wit-cover, A Heartbeat Away: The Investigation and Resignation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew (1974), is the best study of Agnew’s fall from grace. Agnew is profiled in the Philadelphia Inquirer (11 Oct. 1973). An obituary is in the New York Times (18 Sept. 1996).

Steve Neal

Spiro Theodore Agnew

views updated Jun 27 2018

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. □

Agnew, Spiro Theodore

views updated Jun 11 2018

AGNEW, Spiro Theodore

(b. 9 November 1918 in Baltimore, Maryland; d. 17 September 1996 in Berlin, Maryland), governor of Maryland and vice president of the United States who became known for his bombastic and divisive speeches attacking the media and liberal protesters.

The son of homemaker Margaret Akers Pollard and her second husband, Greek immigrant and restaurateur Theodore Spiro Agnew (formerly Anagnostopoulous), Agnew grew up with his older half brother W. Roy Pollard in Baltimore. After graduating from Forest Park High School in 1937, he began chemistry studies at Johns Hopkins University. In 1940, having lost interest in chemistry, Agnew left the university without a degree and enrolled in night classes at the University of Baltimore Law School. During the day he worked as a legal aide, an assistant personnel manager, and an insurance investigator. Agnew married Elinor Isabel ("Judy") Judefind on 27 May 1942; they had four children.

In September 1941 Agnew was drafted into the U.S. Army and served as a second lieutenant with the 10th Armored Division in France and Germany. He received the Bronze Star, and upon his discharge as captain in 1945, he completed his LL.B. in 1947 at Baltimore and then earned an LL.D. in 1949 from the University of Maryland. Admitted to the bar in 1949, Agnew practiced briefly with a Baltimore law firm before striking out on his own. His fledgling law office quickly failed, and Agnew joined Lumbermen's Mutual Insurance Company.

Agnew had registered his political party affiliation as a Democrat, following in the footsteps of his ward leader father, but the opportunities for Democrats in Maryland were few. Switching to the Republican Party, he joined the Baltimore County zoning appeals board in 1957 and became chairman one year later. After Agnew mounted a failed campaign for a judgeship in 1960, the Democrats decided to remove him from the Democrat-dominated zoning board in 1961. The publicity generated by this crude ejection cast Agnew as an honest man wronged by machine politics and helped propel him into the post of Baltimore County executive. Sworn in on 1 December 1962, Agnew had campaigned as a civil libertarian who opposed discrimination for moral, not political, reasons.

Notoriously thin-skinned and insensitive to the inflammatory impact of his words, Agnew soon made enemies. In the spring and summer of 1963, civil rights activists demonstrated to persuade a Baltimore-area amusement park to desegregate. Agnew created a civil rights commission to settle racial disputes, but worried the activists would undermine his efforts to reach a settlement with the park. Seemingly oblivious to the patience long exhibited by African Americans in the face of discrimination, Agnew publicly stated, "It is my earnest hope that there will be no outbursts of demonstrations, no intemperate haste … no rash actions to jeopardize the advances possible if we exercise statesmanship and strength." The civil rights activists continued marching.

Running for governor of Maryland in 1966, Agnew had the immense good luck to have a rabid segregationist as an opponent. "This state must not be controlled by a devil that sits holding a two-pronged pitchfork of bigotry and hatred," Agnew declared before coasting to an easy victory. Once in office he initiated tax reform, increased aid to antipoverty programs, established the strictest state law against water pollution in the country, repealed the state law against racial intermarriage, supported open housing, and pushed for the liberalization of abortion laws.

An ardent proponent of legal proceduralism, Agnew took a strong stand for law and order, categorizing peaceful demonstrations as "militant pushing." In 1968 he ordered the arrest of 227 trespassing Bowie State University students who were holding a sit-in to protest the dilapidated buildings at the predominantly African-American campus. "I refuse to knuckle under to the demands of students no matter how justified they are," Agnew explained. When Baltimore erupted in flames after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Agnew arranged a meeting with 100 moderate black leaders who had tried to restore calm by walking the streets during the rioting. Agnew opened the meeting by insulting the leaders: "I did not request your presence to bid for peace with the public dollar." Demanding that African Americans repudiate radicals like Stokely Carmichael, Agnew then gave a speech described as "punitive" and "condescending" by one angry attendee, who walked out along with seventy others.

A centrist who did not have enough star power to out-shine Richard M. Nixon, Agnew became the Republican choice for vice president in 1968 and was sworn into office on 20 January 1969. Assigned to the National Security Council and chairing the National Aeronautics and Space Council among his many duties, Agnew quickly developed a reputation for candor and inflammatory statements. He often said what Nixon felt but could not publicly express. Agnew attacked student protesters as "spoiled brats who never have had a good spanking" and "who take their tactics from Gandhi and their money from Daddy." He informed the poor and young, "We will listen to your complaints. You may give us your symptoms [but] we will make the diagnosis and … will implement the cure." Blaming the conduct of anti-Vietnam protesters on an "overly permissive society," Agnew added, "I wanted to do a lot of silly things when I was that age too, but my parents wouldn't let me." On 13 November 1969 the vice president vehemently denounced television newscasters as a hostile "unelected elite" who subjected Nixon's speeches to instant analysis. He raised the possibility of greater government regulation of this "virtual monopoly," a suggestion that many in television took as a threat to freedom of speech.

One of the most popular Republicans in the nation, Agnew's comments struck a chord with many Americans. Returned to office with Nixon in 1972, he learned soon after that he was the target of a grand jury investigation for accepting bribes from construction firms seeking state contracts and for taking kickbacks after he had become vice president. Agnew pleaded no contest to tax evasion, receiving probation and a fine. He resigned from office on 10 October 1973, was disbarred in Maryland in 1974, and spent his remaining years firmly out of the public eye. Un-diagnosed acute leukemia claimed his life at a Berlin, Maryland, hospital. He is buried in Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, Maryland, north of Baltimore.

Agnew's legacy is not a positive one. By fostering divisiveness, he contributed to the disillusionment with the political process that marked the end of the 1960s. His betrayal of the public through bribe taking, after he had loudly proclaimed the values of law and order, added mightily to the cynicism with which Americans have subsequently viewed politicians.

Agnew's papers are at the University of Maryland Archives and Manuscripts Department in College Park. In Go Quietly … Or Else (1980), he wrote of his days as vice president and the scandal that brought him down. Joseph Albright paints a highly critical portrait of the vice president in What Makes Spiro Run (1972). More balanced examinations of Agnew can be found in Theo Lippman, Spiro Agnew's America, and Jules Witcover, White Knight: The Rise of Spiro Agnew (both 1972). Agnew's controversial relationship with the press is addressed in John R. Coyne, Jr., The Impudent Snobs: Agnew vs. the Intellectual Establishment (1972), and the best account of Agnew's fall from grace is in Richard M. Cohen and Jules Witcover, A Heartbeat Away: The Investigation and Resignation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew (1974). Obituaries are in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 19 Sept. 1996).

Caryn E. Neumann

Agnew, Spiro Theodore

views updated May 29 2018

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.