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Spiro Agnew - History

Spiro Agnew - History

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Spiro Agnew

1918- 1996


Spiro T. Agnew, was born to Greek immigrant parents in Baltimore, Maryland on November 9, 1918. He attended John Hopkins University and then . After serving in World War II, he graduated from the University of Baltimore in 1947 with a degree in law. In 1962 he was elected Baltimore County Executive. In 1966, he was elected governor of Maryland as a liberal, introducing anti-discrimination legislation in the first year of his term. By 1968, however, he had become more conservative regarding issues such as civil disorder and race riots.
Agnew was selected to be Richard M. Nixon's running mate in the 1968 Presidential election, and was viewed as a compromise figure for most Republicans. Agnew assumed office as Vice-President in 1969, but in 1973, Agnew became the subject of investigation for bribery, extortion, tax fraud, and conspiracy, on charges of having taken kickbacks from government contractors in Maryland while governor. Although he went on television on August 8, 1973, and denounced the charges as "damned lies," he resigned on October 10, 1973, agreeing not to contest the government charge of tax evasion.

Spiro Agnew is best known as a Politician. U.S. vice president under Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973 who was forced to resign in 1973 after being charged with accepting bribes. He was the only second Vice President in United States history to resign and was the only one to do so because of criminal charges. Spiro Agnew was born on November 9, 1918 in Baltimore, MD. He was promoted to an officer position in World War II and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. Spiro Agnew is one of the most successful Politician. He has ranked on the list of famous people who were born on November 9, 1918.

He also has a position among the list of Most popular Politician.

Family: Parents, Children & Relatives

He got married to Elinor Judefind in May 1942 the couple had four children together. He has not shared enough information about family details. However, our team currently working, we will update Family, Sibling, Spouse and Childrens information.

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Family background

Spiro Agnew's father was born Theophrastos Anagnostopoulos in about 1877, in the Greek town of Gargalianoi. [1] [2] The family may have been involved in olive growing and been impoverished during a crisis in the industry in the 1890s. [3] Anagnostopoulos emigrated to the United States in 1897 [4] (some accounts say 1902) [3] [5] and settled in Schenectady, New York, where he changed his name to Theodore Agnew and opened a diner. [3] A passionate self-educator, Agnew maintained a lifelong interest in philosophy one family member recalled that "if he wasn't reading something to improve his mind, he wouldn't read." [6] Around 1908, he moved to Baltimore, where he purchased a restaurant. Here he met William Pollard, who was the city's federal meat inspector. The two became friends Pollard and his wife Margaret were regular customers of the restaurant. After Pollard died in April 1917, Agnew and Margaret Pollard began a courtship which led to their marriage on December 12, 1917. Spiro Agnew was born 11 months later, on November 9, 1918. [3]

Margaret Pollard, born Margaret Marian Akers in Bristol, Virginia, in 1883, was the youngest in a family of 10 children. [3] As a young adult she moved to Washington, D.C., and found employment in various government offices before marrying Pollard and moving to Baltimore. The Pollards had one son, Roy, who was 10 years old when Pollard died. [3] After the marriage to Agnew in 1917 and Spiro's birth the following year, the new family settled in a small apartment at 226 West Madison Street, near downtown Baltimore. [7]

Childhood, education, early career, and marriage

In accordance with his mother's wishes, the infant Spiro was baptized as an Episcopalian, rather than into the Greek Orthodox Church of his father. Nevertheless, Agnew senior was the dominant figure within the family, and a strong influence on his son. When in 1969, after his vice presidential inauguration, Baltimore's Greek community endowed a scholarship in Theodore Agnew's name, Spiro Agnew told the gathering: "I am proud to say that I grew up in the light of my father. My beliefs are his." [8]

During the early 1920s, the Agnews prospered. Theodore acquired a larger restaurant, the Piccadilly, and moved the family to a house in the Forest Park northwest section of the city, where Spiro attended Garrison Junior High School and later Forest Park High School. This period of affluence ended with the crash of 1929, and the restaurant closed. In 1931, the family's savings were wiped out when a local bank failed, forcing them to sell the house and move to a small apartment. [9] Agnew later recalled how his father responded to these misfortunes: "He just shrugged it off and went to work with his hands without complaint." [10] Theodore Agnew sold fruit and vegetables from a roadside stall, while the youthful Spiro helped the family's budget with part-time jobs, delivering groceries and distributing leaflets. [9] As he grew up, Spiro was increasingly influenced by his peers, and began to distance himself from his Greek background. [11] He refused his father's offer to pay for Greek language lessons, and preferred to be known by a nickname, "Ted". [8]

In February 1937, Agnew entered Johns Hopkins University at their new Homewood campus in north Baltimore as a chemistry major. After a few months, he found the pressure of the academic work increasingly stressful, and was distracted by the family's continuing financial problems and worries about the international situation, in which war seemed likely. In 1939 he decided that his future lay in law rather than chemistry, left Johns Hopkins and began night classes at the University of Baltimore School of Law. To support himself, he took a day job as an insurance clerk with the Maryland Casualty Company at their "Rotunda" building on 40th Street in Roland Park. [12]

During the three years Agnew spent at the company he rose to the position of assistant underwriter. [12] At the office, he met a young filing clerk, Elinor Judefind, known as "Judy". She had grown up in the same part of the city as Agnew, but the two had not previously met. They began dating, became engaged, and were married in Baltimore on May 27, 1942. They had four children [13] Pamela Lee, James Rand, Susan Scott, and Elinor Kimberly. [14]

World War II (1941–1945)

By the time of the marriage, Agnew had been drafted into the U.S. Army. Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, he began basic training at Camp Croft in South Carolina. There, he met people from a variety of backgrounds: "I had led a very sheltered life—I became unsheltered very quickly." [15] He eventually was sent to the Officer Candidate School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and on May 24, 1942—three days before his wedding—he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. [16]

After a two-day honeymoon, Agnew returned to Fort Knox. He served there, or at nearby Fort Campbell, for nearly two years in a variety of administrative roles, before being sent to England in March 1944 as part of the pre-D-Day build-up. [15] He remained on standby in Birmingham until late in the year, when he was posted to the 54th Armored Infantry Battalion in France as a replacement officer. After briefly serving as a rifle platoon leader, Agnew commanded the battalion's service company. The battalion became part of 10th Armored Combat Command "B", which saw action in the Battle of the Bulge, including the siege of Bastogne—in all, "thirty-nine days in the hole of the doughnut", as one of Agnew's men put it. [17] Thereafter, the 54th battalion fought its way into Germany, seeing action at Mannheim, Heidelberg and Crailsheim, before reaching Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria as the war concluded. [17] Agnew returned home for discharge in November 1945, having been awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Bronze Star. [15] [17]

Postwar years (1945–1956)

On his return to civilian life, Agnew resumed his legal studies, and secured a job as a law clerk with the Baltimore firm of Smith and Barrett. Until now, Agnew had been largely apolitical his nominal allegiance had been to the Democratic Party, following his father's beliefs. The firm's senior partner, Lester Barrett, advised Agnew that if he wanted a career in politics he should become a Republican. There were already many ambitious young Democrats in Baltimore and its suburbs, whereas competent, personable Republicans were scarcer. Agnew took Barrett's advice on moving with his wife and children to the Baltimore suburb of Lutherville in 1947, he registered as a Republican, though he did not immediately become involved in politics. [18] [19]

In 1947 Agnew graduated as Bachelor of Laws and passed the Maryland bar examination. He started his own law practice in downtown Baltimore, but was not successful, and took a job as an insurance investigator. [19] A year later, he moved to Schreiber's, a supermarket chain, where his main role was that of a store detective. [20] He stayed there for four years, a period briefly interrupted in 1951 by a recall to the army after the outbreak of the Korean War. He resigned from Schreiber's in 1952, and resumed his legal practice, specializing in labor law. [21]

In 1955, Lester Barrett was appointed a judge in Towson, the county seat of Baltimore County, Maryland. Agnew moved his office there at the same time he moved his family from Lutherville to Loch Raven, also in Baltimore County. There, he led a typical suburban lifestyle, serving as president of the local school's PTA, joining the Kiwanis and participating in a range of social and community activities. [22] Historian William Manchester sums up the Agnew of those days: "His favorite musician was Lawrence Welk. His leisure interests were all midcult: watching the Baltimore Colts on television, listening to Mantovani, and reading the sort of prose the Reader's Digest liked to condense. He was a lover of order and an almost compulsive conformist." [23]

Political awakening

Agnew made his first bid for political office in 1956, when he sought to be a Republican candidate for Baltimore County Council. He was turned down by local party leaders, but nevertheless campaigned vigorously for the Republican ticket. The election resulted in an unexpected Republican majority on the council, and in recognition for his party work, Agnew was appointed for a one-year term to the county Zoning Board of Appeals at a salary of $3,600 per year. [24] This quasi-judicial post provided an important supplement to his legal practice, and Agnew welcomed the prestige connected with the appointment. [25] In April 1958, he was reappointed to the Board for a full three-year term and became its chairman. [20]

In the November 1960 elections, Agnew decided to seek election to the county circuit court, against the local tradition that sitting judges seeking re-election were not opposed. He was unsuccessful, finishing last of five candidates. [4] This failed attempt raised his profile, and he was regarded by his Democratic opponents as a Republican on the rise. [26] The 1960 elections saw the Democrats win control of the county council, and one of their first actions was to remove Agnew from the Zoning Appeals Board. According to Agnew's biographer, Jules Witcover, "The publicity generated by the Democrats' crude dismissal of Agnew cast him as the honest servant wronged by the machine." [27] Seeking to capitalize on this mood, Agnew asked to be nominated as the Republican candidate in the 1962 U.S. Congressional elections, in Maryland's 2nd congressional district. The party chose the more experienced J. Fife Symington, but wanted to take advantage of Agnew's local support. He accepted their invitation to run for county executive, the county's chief executive officer, a post which the Democrats had held since 1895. [4] [27]

Agnew's chances in 1962 were boosted by a feud in the Democrat ranks, as the retired former county executive, Michael Birmingham, fell out with his successor and defeated him in the Democratic primary. By contrast with his elderly opponent, Agnew was able to campaign as a "White Knight" promising change his program included an anti-discrimination bill requiring public amenities such as parks, bars and restaurants be open to all races, policies that neither Birmingham nor any Maryland Democrat could have introduced at that time without angering supporters. [28] [29] In the November election, despite an intervention by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson on Birmingham's behalf, [30] Agnew beat his opponent by 78,487 votes to 60,993. [31] When Symington lost to Democrat Clarence Long in his congressional race, Agnew became the highest-ranking Republican in Maryland. [32]

County executive

Agnew's four-year term as county executive saw a moderately progressive administration, which included the building of new schools, increases to teachers' salaries, reorganization of the police department, and improvements to the water and sewer systems. [4] [5] [33] His anti-discrimination bill passed, and gave him a reputation as a liberal, but its impact was limited in a county where the population was 97 percent white. [34] His relations with the increasingly militant civil rights movement were sometimes troubled. In a number of desegregation disputes involving private property, Agnew appeared to prioritize law and order, showing a particular aversion to any kind of demonstration. [35] His reaction to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Alabama, in which four children died, was to refuse to attend a memorial service at a Baltimore church, and to denounce a planned demonstration in support of the victims. [36]

As county executive, Agnew was sometimes criticized for being too close to rich and influential businessmen, [5] and was accused of cronyism after bypassing the normal bidding procedures and designating three of his Republican friends as the county's insurance brokers of record, ensuring them large commissions. Agnew's standard reaction to such criticisms was to display moral indignation, denounce his opponents' "outrageous distortions", deny any wrongdoing and insist on his personal integrity tactics which, Cohen and Witcover note, were to be seen again as he defended himself against the corruption allegations that ended his vice presidency. [37]

In the 1964 presidential election, Agnew was opposed to the Republican frontrunner, the conservative Barry Goldwater, initially supporting the moderate California senator Thomas Kuchel, a candidacy that, Witcover remarks, "died stillborn". [38] After the failure of moderate Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton's candidacy at the party convention, Agnew gave his reluctant support to Goldwater, but privately opined that the choice of so extremist a candidate had cost the Republicans any chance of victory. [39]

Election 1966

As his four-year term as executive neared its end, Agnew knew that his chances of re-election were slim, given that the county's Democrats had healed their rift. [37] Instead, in 1966 he sought the Republican nomination for governor, and with the backing of party leaders won the April primary by a wide margin. [40]

In the Democratic party, three candidates—a moderate, a liberal and an outright segregationist—battled for their party's gubernatorial nomination, which to general surprise was won by the segregationist, George P. Mahoney, a perennially unsuccessful candidate for office. [41] [42] Mahoney's candidacy split his party, provoking a third-party candidate, Comptroller of Baltimore City Hyman A. Pressman. In Montgomery County, the state's wealthiest area, a "Democrats for Agnew" organization flourished, and liberals statewide flocked to the Agnew standard. [43] Mahoney, a fierce opponent of integrated housing, exploited racial tensions with the slogan: "Your Home is Your Castle. Protect it!" [44] [45] Agnew painted him as the candidate of the Ku Klux Klan, and said voters must choose "between the bright, pure, courageous flame of righteousness and the fiery cross". [43] In the November election Agnew, helped by 70 percent of the black vote, [46] beat Mahoney by 455,318 votes (49.5 percent) to 373,543, with Pressman taking 90,899 votes. [47]

After the campaign, it emerged that Agnew had failed to report three alleged attempts to bribe him that had been made on behalf of the slot-machine industry, involving sums of $20,000, $75,000 and $200,000, if he would promise not to veto legislation keeping the machines legal in Southern Maryland. He justified his silence on the grounds that no actual offer had been made: "Nobody sat down in front of me with a suitcase of money." [48] Agnew was also criticized over his part-ownership of land close to the site of a planned, but never-built second bridge over Chesapeake Bay. Opponents claimed a conflict of interest, since some of Agnew's partners in the venture were simultaneously involved in business deals with the county. Agnew denied any conflict or impropriety, saying that the property involved was outside Baltimore County and his jurisdiction. Nevertheless, he sold his interest. [49]

In office

Agnew's term as governor was marked by an agenda which included tax reform, clean water regulations, and the repeal of laws against interracial marriage. [4] Community health programs were expanded, as were higher educational and employment opportunities for those on low incomes. Steps were taken towards ending segregation in schools. [50] Agnew's fair housing legislation was limited, applying only to new projects above a certain size. [51] These were the first such laws passed south of the Mason–Dixon line. [52] Agnew's attempt to adopt a new state constitution was rejected by the voters in a referendum. [53]

For the most part, Agnew remained somewhat aloof from the state legislature, [53] preferring the company of businessmen. Some of these had been associates in his county executive days, such as Lester Matz and Walter Jones, who had been among the first to encourage him to seek the governorship. [54] Agnew's close ties to the business community were noted by officials in the state capital of Annapolis: "There always seemed to be people around him who were in business." [32] Some suspected that, while not himself corrupt, he "allowed himself to be used by the people around him." [32]

Agnew publicly supported civil rights, but deplored the militant tactics used by some black leaders. [55] During the 1966 election, his record had won him the endorsement of Roy Wilkins, leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). [56] In mid-1967, racial tension was rising nationally, fueled by black discontent and an increasingly assertive civil rights leadership. Several cities exploded in violence, and there were riots in Cambridge, Maryland, after an incendiary speech there on July 24, 1967, by radical student leader H. Rap Brown. [57] Agnew's principal concern was to maintain law and order, [58] and he denounced Brown as a professional agitator, saying, "I hope they put him away and throw away the key." [59] When the Kerner Commission, appointed by President Johnson to investigate the causes of the unrest, reported that the principal factor was institutional white racism, [60] Agnew dismissed these findings, blaming the "permissive climate and misguided compassion" and adding: "It is not the centuries of racism and deprivation that have built to an explosive crescendo, but . that lawbreaking has become a socially acceptable and occasionally stylish form of dissent". [61] In March 1968, when faced with a student boycott at Bowie State College, a historically black institution, Agnew again blamed outside agitators and refused to negotiate with the students. When a student committee came to Annapolis and demanded a meeting, Agnew closed the college and ordered more than 200 arrests. [62]

Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, there was widespread rioting and disorder across the US. [63] The trouble reached Baltimore on April 6, and for the next three days and nights the city burned. Agnew declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard. [64] When order was restored there were six dead, more than 4,000 were under arrest, the fire department had responded to 1,200 fires, and there had been widespread looting. [65] On April 11, Agnew summoned more than 100 moderate black leaders to the state capitol, where instead of the expected constructive dialogue he delivered a speech roundly castigating them for their failure to control more radical elements, and accused them of a cowardly retreat or even complicity. [66] One of the delegates, the Rev. Sidney Daniels, rebuked the governor: "Talk to us like we are ladies and gentlemen", he said, before walking out. [67] Others followed him the remnant was treated to further accusations as Agnew rejected all socio-economic explanations for the disturbances. [66] Many white suburbanites applauded Agnew's speech: over 90 percent of the 9,000 responses by phone, letter or telegram supported him, and he won tributes from leading Republican conservatives such as Jack Williams, governor of Arizona, and former senator William Knowland of California. [68] To members of the black community the April 11 meeting was a turning point. Having previously welcomed Agnew's stance on civil rights, they now felt betrayed, one state senator observing: "He has sold us out . he thinks like George Wallace, he talks like George Wallace". [69]

Background: Rockefeller and Nixon

At least until the April 1968 disturbances, Agnew's image was that of a liberal Republican. Since 1964 he had supported the presidential ambitions of Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, and early in 1968, with that year's elections looming, he became chairman of the "Rockefeller for President" citizens' committee. [70] When in a televised speech on March 21, 1968, Rockefeller shocked his supporters with an apparently unequivocal withdrawal from the race, Agnew was dismayed and humiliated despite his very public role in the Rockefeller campaign, he had received no advance warning of the decision. He took this as a personal insult and as a blow to his credibility. [71] [72]

Within days of Rockefeller's announcement, Agnew was being wooed by supporters of the former vice president Richard Nixon, whose campaign for the Republican nomination was well under way. [73] Agnew had no antagonism towards Nixon, and in the wake of Rockefeller's withdrawal had indicated that Nixon might be his "second choice". [72] When the two met in New York on March 29 they found an easy rapport. [74] Agnew's words and actions after the April disturbances in Baltimore delighted conservative members of the Nixon camp such as Pat Buchanan, and also impressed Nixon. [75] When on April 30 Rockefeller re-entered the race, Agnew's reaction was cool. He commended the governor as potentially a "formidable candidate" but did not commit his support: "A lot of things have happened since his withdrawal . I think I've got to take another look at this situation". [76]

In mid-May, Nixon, interviewed by David Broder of The Washington Post, mentioned the Maryland governor as a possible running mate. [77] As Agnew continued to meet with Nixon and with the candidate's senior aides, [78] there was a growing impression that he was moving into the Nixon camp. At the same time, Agnew denied any political ambitions beyond serving his full four-year term as governor. [79]

Republican National Convention

As Nixon prepared for the August 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, he discussed possible running mates with his staff. Among these were Ronald Reagan, the conservative Governor of California and the more liberal Mayor of New York City, John Lindsay. Nixon felt that these high-profile names could split the party, and looked for a less divisive figure. He did not indicate a preferred choice, and Agnew's name was not raised at this stage. [80] Agnew was intending to go to the convention with his Maryland delegation as a favorite son, uncommitted to any of the main candidates. [81]

At the convention, held August 5–8, Agnew abandoned his favorite son status, placing Nixon's name in nomination. [82] Nixon narrowly secured the nomination on the first ballot. [83] In the discussions that followed about a running mate, Nixon kept his counsel while various party factions thought they could influence his choice: Strom Thurmond, the senator from South Carolina, told a party meeting that he held a veto on the vice presidency. [84] It was evident that Nixon wanted a centrist, though there was little enthusiasm when he first proposed Agnew, and other possibilities were discussed. [85] Some party insiders thought that Nixon had privately settled on Agnew early on, and that the consideration of other candidates was little more than a charade. [86] [87] On August 8, after a final meeting of advisers and party leaders, Nixon declared that Agnew was his choice, and shortly afterwards announced his decision to the press. [88] Delegates formally nominated Agnew for the vice presidency later that day, before adjourning. [89]

In his acceptance speech, Agnew told the convention he had "a deep sense of the improbability of this moment". [90] Agnew was not yet a national figure, and a widespread reaction to the nomination was "Spiro who?" [91] In Atlanta, three pedestrians gave their reactions to the name when interviewed on television: "It's some kind of disease" "It's some kind of egg" "He's a Greek that owns that shipbuilding firm." [92]


In 1968, the Nixon-Agnew ticket faced two principal opponents. The Democrats, at a convention marred by violent demonstrations, had nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Maine Senator Edmund Muskie as their standard-bearers. [93] The segregationist former Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, ran as a third-party candidate, and was expected to do well in the Deep South. [94] Nixon, mindful of the restrictions he had labored under as Eisenhower's running mate in 1952 and 1956, was determined to give Agnew a much freer rein and to make it clear his running mate had his support. [95] Agnew could also usefully play an "attack dog" role, as Nixon had in 1952. [86]

Initially, Agnew played the centrist, pointing to his civil rights record in Maryland. [96] As the campaign developed, he quickly adopted a more belligerent approach, with strong law-and-order rhetoric, a style which alarmed the party's Northern liberals but played well in the South. John Mitchell, Nixon's campaign manager, was impressed, some other party leaders less so Senator Thruston Morton described Agnew as an "asshole". [97]

Throughout September, Agnew was in the news, generally as a result of what one reporter called his "offensive and sometimes dangerous banality". [98] He used the derogatory term "Polack" to describe Polish-Americans, referred to a Japanese-American reporter as "the fat Jap", [99] and appeared to dismiss poor socio-economic conditions by stating that "if you've seen one slum you've seen them all." [94] He attacked Humphrey as soft on communism, an appeaser like Britain's prewar prime minister Neville Chamberlain. [100] Agnew was mocked by his Democratic opponents a Humphrey commercial displayed the message "Agnew for Vice President?" against a soundtrack of prolonged hysterical laughter that degenerated into a painful cough, before a final message: "This would be funny if it weren't so serious. " [101] Agnew's comments outraged many, but Nixon did not rein him in such right-wing populism had a strong appeal in the Southern states and was an effective counter to Wallace. Agnew's rhetoric was also popular in some Northern areas, [102] and helped to galvanize "white backlash" into something less racially defined, more attuned to the suburban ethic defined by historian Peter B. Levy as "orderliness, personal responsibility, the sanctity of hard work, the nuclear family, and law and order". [103]

In late October, Agnew survived an exposé in The New York Times that questioned his financial dealings in Maryland, with Nixon denouncing the paper for "the lowest kind of gutter politics". [104] In the election on November 5, the Republicans were victorious, with a narrow popular vote plurality – 500,000 out of a total of 73 million votes cast. The Electoral College result was more decisive: Nixon 301, Humphrey 191 and Wallace 46. [105] The Republicans narrowly lost Maryland, [106] but Agnew was credited by pollster Louis Harris with helping his party to victory in several border and Upper South states that might easily have fallen to Wallace – South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky – and with bolstering Nixon's support in suburbs nationally. [107] Had Nixon lost those five states, he would have had only the minimum number of electoral votes needed, 270, and any defection by an elector would have thrown the election to the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. [108]

Transition and early days

Immediately after the 1968 election, Agnew was still uncertain what Nixon would expect of him as vice president. [109] He met with Nixon several days after the election in Key Biscayne, Florida. Nixon, vice president himself for eight years under Eisenhower, wanted to spare Agnew the boredom and lack of a role he had sometimes experienced in that office. [109] Nixon initially gave Agnew an office in the West Wing of the White House, a first for a vice president, although in December 1969 it was given to deputy assistant Alexander Butterfield and Agnew had to move to an office in the Executive Office Building. [110] When they stood before the press after the meeting, Nixon pledged that Agnew would not have to undertake the ceremonial roles usually undertaken by the holders of the vice presidency, but would have "new duties beyond what any vice president has previously assumed". [109] Nixon told the press that he planned to make full use of Agnew's experience as county executive and as governor in dealing with matters of federal-state relations and in urban affairs. [111]

Nixon established transition headquarters in New York, but Agnew was not invited to meet with him there until November 27, when the two met for an hour. When Agnew spoke to reporters afterwards, he stated that he felt "exhilarated" with his new responsibilities, but did not explain what those were. During the transition period, Agnew traveled extensively, enjoying his new status. He vacationed on St. Croix, where he played a round of golf with Humphrey and Muskie. He went to Memphis for the 1968 Liberty Bowl, and to New York to attend the wedding of Nixon's daughter Julie to David Eisenhower. Agnew was a fan of the Baltimore Colts in January, he was the guest of team owner Carroll Rosenbloom at Super Bowl III, and watched Joe Namath and the New York Jets upset the Colts, 16–7. There was as yet no official residence for the vice president, and Spiro and Judy Agnew secured a suite at the Sheraton Hotel in Washington formerly occupied by Johnson while vice president. Only one of their children, Kim, the youngest daughter, moved there with them, the others remaining in Maryland. [112]

During the transition, Agnew hired a staff, choosing several aides who had worked with him as county executive and as governor. He hired Charles Stanley Blair as chief of staff Blair had been a member of the House of Delegates and served as Maryland Secretary of State under Agnew. Arthur Sohmer, Agnew's long-time campaign manager, became his political advisor, and Herb Thompson, a former journalist, became press secretary. [113]

Agnew was sworn in along with Nixon on January 20, 1969 as was customary, he sat down immediately after being sworn in, and did not make a speech. [114] Soon after the inauguration, Nixon appointed Agnew as head of the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, to head government commissions such as the National Space Council and assigned him to work with state governors to bring down crime. It became clear that Agnew would not be in the inner circle of advisors. The new president preferred to deal directly with only a trusted handful, and was annoyed when Agnew tried to call him about matters Nixon deemed trivial. After Agnew shared his opinions on a foreign policy matter in a cabinet meeting, an angry Nixon sent Bob Haldeman to warn Agnew to keep his opinions to himself. Nixon complained that Agnew had no idea how the vice presidency worked, but did not meet with Agnew to share his own experience of the office. Herb Klein, director of communications in the Nixon White House, later wrote that Agnew had allowed himself to be pushed around by senior aides such as Haldeman and John Mitchell, and that Nixon's "inconsistent" treatment of Agnew had left the vice president exposed. [115] [116]

Agnew's pride had been stung by the negative news coverage of him during the campaign, and he sought to bolster his reputation by assiduous performance of his duties. It had become usual for the vice president to preside over the Senate only if he might be needed to break a tie, but Agnew opened every session for the first two months of his term, and spent more time presiding, in his first year, than any vice president since Alben Barkley, who held that role under Harry S. Truman. The first postwar vice president not to have previously been a senator, he took lessons in Senate procedures from the Parliamentarian and from a Republican committee staffer. He lunched with small groups of senators, and was initially successful in building good relations. [117] Although silenced on foreign policy matters, he attended White House staff meetings and spoke on urban affairs when Nixon was present, he often presented the perspective of the governors. Agnew earned praise from the other members when he presided over a meeting of the White House Domestic Council in Nixon's absence but, like Nixon during Eisenhower's illnesses, did not sit in the president's chair. Nevertheless, many of the commission assignments Nixon gave Agnew were sinecures, with the vice president only formally the head. [118]

"Nixon's Nixon": attacking the left

The public image of Agnew as an uncompromising critic of the violent protests that had marked 1968 persisted into his vice presidency. At first, he tried to take a more conciliatory tone, in line with Nixon's own speeches after taking office. Still, he urged a firm line against violence, [119] stating in a speech in Honolulu on May 2, 1969, that "we have a new breed of self-appointed vigilantes arising—the counterdemonstrators—taking the law into their own hands because officials fail to call law enforcement authorities. We have a vast faceless majority of the American public in quiet fury over the situation—and with good reason." [120]

On October 14, 1969, the day before the anti-war Moratorium, North Vietnamese premier Pham Van Dong released a letter supporting demonstrations in the United States. Nixon resented this, but on the advice of his aides, thought it best to say nothing, and instead had Agnew give a press conference at the White House, calling upon the Moratorium protesters to disavow the support of the North Vietnamese. Agnew handled the task well, and Nixon tasked Agnew with attacking the Democrats generally, while remaining above the fray himself. This was analogous to the role Nixon had performed as vice president in the Eisenhower White House thus Agnew was dubbed "Nixon's Nixon". Agnew had finally found a role in the Nixon administration, one he enjoyed. [121]

Nixon had Agnew deliver a series of speeches attacking their political opponents. In New Orleans on October 19, Agnew blamed liberal elites for condoning violence by demonstrators: "a spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals". [122] The following day, in Jackson, Mississippi, Agnew told a Republican dinner, [123] "for too long the South has been the punching bag for those who characterize themselves as liberal intellectuals [124] . their course is a course that will ultimately weaken and erode the very fiber of America." [125] Denying Republicans had a Southern Strategy, Agnew stressed that the administration and Southern whites had much in common, including the disapproval of the elites. Levy argued that such remarks were designed to attract Southern whites to the Republican Party to help secure the re-election of Nixon and Agnew in 1972, and that Agnew's rhetoric "could have served as the blueprint for the culture wars of the next twenty-to-thirty years, including the claim that Democrats were soft on crime, unpatriotic, and favored flag burning rather than flag waving". [126] The attendees at the speeches were enthusiastic, but other Republicans, especially from the cities, complained to the Republican National Committee that Agnew's attacks were overbroad. [127]

In the wake of these remarks, Nixon delivered his Silent Majority speech on November 3, 1969, calling on "the great silent majority of my fellow Americans" to support the administration's policy in Vietnam. [128] The speech was well received by the public, but less so by the press, who strongly attacked Nixon's allegations that only a minority of Americans opposed the war. Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan penned a speech in response, to be delivered by Agnew on November 13 in Des Moines, Iowa. The White House worked to assure the maximum exposure for Agnew's speech, and the networks covered it live, making it a nationwide address, a rarity for vice presidents. [129] According to Witcover, "Agnew made the most of it". [130]

Historically, the press had enjoyed considerable prestige and respect to that point, though some Republicans complained of bias. [131] But in his Des Moines speech, Agnew attacked the media, complaining that immediately after Nixon's speech, "his words and policies were subjected to instant analysis and querulous criticism . by a small band of network commentators and self-appointed analysts, the majority of whom expressed in one way or another their hostility to what he had to say . It was obvious that their minds were made up in advance." [132] Agnew continued, "I am asking whether a form of censorship already exists when the news that forty million Americans receive each night is determined by a handful of men . and filtered through a handful of commentators who admit their own set of biases". [133]

Agnew thus put into words feelings that many Republicans and conservatives had long felt about the news media. [132] Television network executives and commentators responded with outrage. Julian Goodman, president of NBC, stated that Agnew had made an "appeal to prejudice . it is regrettable that the Vice President of the United States should deny to TV freedom of the press". [134] Frank Stanton, head of CBS, accused Agnew of trying to intimidate the news media, and his news anchor, Walter Cronkite, agreed. [135] The speech was praised by conservatives from both parties, and gave Agnew a following among the right. [136] Agnew deemed the Des Moines speech one of his finest moments [137]

On November 20 in Montgomery, Alabama, Agnew reinforced his earlier speech with an attack on The New York Times and The Washington Post, again originated by Buchanan. Both papers had enthusiastically endorsed Agnew's candidacy for governor in 1966 but had castigated him as unfit for the vice presidency two years later. The Post in particular had been hostile to Nixon since the Hiss case in the 1940s. Agnew accused the papers of sharing a narrow viewpoint alien to most Americans. [138] Agnew alleged that the newspapers were trying to circumscribe his First Amendment right to speak of what he believed, while demanding unfettered freedom for themselves, and warned, "the day when the network commentators and even the gentlemen of The New York Times enjoyed a form of diplomatic immunity from comment and criticism of what they said is over." [139]

After Montgomery, Nixon sought a détente with the media, and Agnew's attacks ended. Agnew's approval rating soared to 64 percent in late November, and the Times called him "a formidable political asset" to the administration. [140] The speeches gave Agnew a power base among conservatives, and boosted his presidential chances for the 1976 election. [141]

1970: Protesters and midterm elections

Agnew's attacks on the administration's opponents, and the flair with which he made his addresses, made him popular as a speaker at Republican fundraising events. He traveled over 25,000 miles (40,000 km) on behalf of the Republican National Committee in early 1970, [4] [142] speaking at a number of Lincoln Day events, and supplanted Reagan as the party's leading fundraiser. [143] Agnew's involvement had Nixon's strong support. In his Chicago speech, the vice president attacked "supercilious sophisticates", while in Atlanta, he promised to continue speaking out lest he break faith with "the Silent Majority, the everyday law-abiding American who believes his country needs a strong voice to articulate his dissatisfaction with those who seek to destroy our heritage of liberty and our system of justice". [144]

Agnew continued to try to increase his influence with Nixon, against the opposition of Haldeman, who was consolidating his power as the second most powerful person in the administration. [145] Agnew was successful in being heard at an April 22, 1970, meeting of the National Security Council. An impediment to Nixon's plan for Vietnamization of the war in Southeast Asia was increasing Viet Cong control of parts of Cambodia, beyond the reach of South Vietnamese troops and used as sanctuaries. Feeling that Nixon was getting overly dovish advice from Secretary of State William P. Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, Agnew stated that if the sanctuaries were a threat, they should be attacked and neutralized. Nixon chose to attack the Viet Cong positions in Cambodia, a decision that had Agnew's support, and that he remained convinced was correct after his resignation. [146]

The continuing student protests against the war brought Agnew's scorn. In a speech on April 28 in Hollywood, Florida, Agnew stated that responsibility of the unrest lay with those who failed to guide them, and suggested that the alumni of Yale University fire its president, Kingman Brewster. [147] [148] The Cambodia incursion brought more demonstrations on campus, and on May 3, Agnew went on Face the Nation to defend the policy. Reminded that Nixon, in his inaugural address, had called for the lowering of voices in political discourse, Agnew commented, "When a fire takes place, a man doesn't run into the room and whisper . he yells, 'Fire!' and I am yelling 'Fire!' because I think 'Fire!' needs to be called here". [149] The Kent State shootings took place the following day, but Agnew did not tone down his attacks on demonstrators, alleging that he was responding to "a general malaise that argues for violent confrontation instead of debate". [150] Nixon had Haldeman tell Agnew to avoid remarks about students Agnew strongly disagreed and stated that he would only refrain if Nixon directly ordered it. [151]

Nixon's agenda had been impeded by the fact that Congress was controlled by Democrats and he hoped to take control of the Senate in the 1970 midterm elections. [142] Worried that Agnew was too divisive a figure, Nixon and his aides initially planned to restrict Agnew's role to fundraising and the giving of a standard stump speech that would avoid personal attacks. [152] The president believed that appealing to white, middle- and lower-class voters on social issues would lead to Republican victories in November. He planned not to do any active campaigning, but to remain above the fray and let Agnew campaign as spokesman for the Silent Majority. [153]

On September 10 in Springfield, Illinois, speaking on behalf of Republican Senator Ralph Smith, Agnew began his campaign, which would be noted for harsh rhetoric and memorable phrases. Agnew attacked the "pusillanimous pussyfooting" of the liberals, including those in Congress, who Agnew said cared nothing for the blue- and white-collar workers, the "Forgotten Man of American politics". [154] Addressing the California Republican Convention in San Diego, Agnew targeted "the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club—the 'Hopeless, Hysterical, Hypochondriacs of History'." [155] [156] He warned that candidates of any party who espoused radical views should be voted out, a reference to New York Senator Charles Goodell, who was on the ballot that November, and who opposed the Vietnam War. [157] Believing that the strategy was working, Nixon met with Agnew at the White House on September 24, and urged him to continue. [158]

Nixon wanted to get rid of Goodell, a Republican who had been appointed by Governor Rockefeller after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, and who had shifted considerably to the left while in office. Goodell could be sacrificed as there was a Conservative Party candidate, James Buckley, who might win the seat. Nixon did not want to be seen as engineering the defeat of a fellow Republican, and did not have Agnew go to New York until after Nixon left on a European trip, hoping Agnew would be perceived as acting on his own. After dueling long-distance with Goodell over the report of the Scranton Commission on campus violence (Agnew considered it too permissive), Agnew gave a speech in New York in which, without naming names, he made it clear he supported Buckley. That Nixon was behind the machinations did not remain secret long, as both Agnew and Nixon adviser Murray Chotiner disclosed it Goodell stated he still believed he had Nixon's support. [159] Although it was by then deemed unlikely the Republicans could gain control of the Senate, both Nixon and Agnew went on the campaign trail for the final days before the election. The outcome was disappointing: Republicans gained only two seats in the Senate, and lost eleven governorships. For Agnew, one bright spot was Goodell's defeat by Buckley in New York, but he was disappointed when his former chief of staff, Charles Blair, failed to unseat Governor Marvin Mandel, Agnew's successor and a Democrat, in Maryland. [158]

Re-election in 1972

Through 1971, it was uncertain if Agnew would be retained on the ticket as Nixon sought a second term in 1972. Neither Nixon nor his aides were enamored of Agnew's independence and outspokenness, and were less than happy at Agnew's popularity among conservatives suspicious of Nixon. The President considered replacing him with Treasury Secretary John Connally, a Democrat and former Governor of Texas. For his part, Agnew was unhappy with many of Nixon's stances, especially in foreign policy, disliking Nixon's rapprochement with China (on which Agnew was not consulted) and believing that the Vietnam War could be won with sufficient force. Even after Nixon announced his re-election bid at the start of 1972, it was unclear if Agnew would be his running mate, and it was not until July 21 that Nixon asked Agnew and the vice president accepted. A public announcement was made the following day. [160]

Nixon instructed Agnew to avoid personal attacks on the press and the Democratic presidential nominee, South Dakota Senator George McGovern, to stress the positives of the Nixon administration, and not to comment on what might happen in 1976. At the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Agnew was greeted as a hero by delegates who saw him as the party's future. After being nominated for a second term, Agnew delivered an acceptance speech focused on the administration's accomplishments, and avoided his usual slashing invective, but he condemned McGovern for supporting busing, and alleged that McGovern, if elected, would beg the North Vietnamese for the return of American prisoners of war. The Watergate break-in was a minor issue in the campaign for once, Agnew's exclusion from Nixon's inner circle worked in his favor, as he knew nothing of the matter until reading of it in the press, and upon learning from Jeb Magruder that administration officials were responsible for the break-in, cut off discussion of the matter. He viewed the break-in as foolish, and felt that both major parties routinely spied on each other. [161] Nixon had instructed Agnew not to attack McGovern's initial running mate, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, and after Eagleton withdrew amid revelations concerning past mental health treatment, Nixon renewed those instructions for former ambassador Sargent Shriver, who had become the new candidate for vice president. [162]

Nixon took the high road in the campaign, but still wanted McGovern attacked for his positions, and the task fell in part to Agnew. The vice president told the press he was anxious to discard the image he had earned as a partisan campaigner in 1968 and 1970, and wanted to be perceived as conciliatory. He defended Nixon on Watergate, and when McGovern alleged that the Nixon administration was the most corrupt in history, made a speech in South Dakota, describing McGovern as a "desperate candidate who can't seem to understand that the American people don't want a philosophy of defeat and self-hate put upon them". [163]

The race was never close, as the McGovern/Shriver ticket's campaign was effectively over before it even began, and the Nixon/Agnew ticket won 49 states and over 60 percent of the vote in gaining re-election Massachusetts and the District of Columbia being alone in the Nixon/Agnew ticket not carrying them. Trying to position himself as the front-runner for 1976, Agnew campaigned widely for Republican candidates, something Nixon would not do. Despite Agnew's efforts, Democrats easily held both houses of Congress, gaining two seats in the Senate, though the Republicans gained twelve in the House. [164]

Criminal investigation and resignation

In early 1972, George Beall, the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, opened an investigation of corruption in Baltimore County, involving public officials, architects, engineering firms, and paving contractors. [165] Beall's target was the current political leadership in Baltimore County. [166] There were rumors that Agnew might be involved, which Beall initially discounted Agnew had not been county executive since December 1966, so any wrongdoing potentially committed while he held that office could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired. As part of the investigation, Lester Matz's engineering firm was served with a subpoena for documents, and through his counsel he sought immunity in exchange for cooperation in the investigation. Matz had been kicking back to Agnew five percent of the value of contracts received through his influence, first county contracts during his term in Towson, and subsequently state contracts while Agnew was governor. [165] [167]

Investigative reporters and Democratic operatives had pursued rumors that Agnew had been corrupt during his years as a Maryland official, but they had not been able to substantiate them. [168] In February 1973, Agnew heard of the investigation and had Attorney General Richard Kleindienst contact Beall. [169] The vice president's personal attorney, George White, visited Beall, who stated that Agnew was not under investigation, and that prosecutors would do their best to protect Agnew's name. [170] In June, Matz's attorney disclosed to Beall that his client could show that Agnew not only had been corrupt, but that payments to him had continued into his vice presidency. The statute of limitations would not prevent Agnew from being prosecuted for these later payments. [171] On July 3, Beall informed the new Attorney General, Elliot Richardson. At the end of the month Nixon, through his chief of staff, Alexander Haig, was informed. Agnew had already met with both Nixon and Haig to assert his innocence. On August 1, Beall sent a letter to Agnew's attorney, formally advising that the vice president was under investigation for tax fraud and corruption. [172] Matz was prepared to testify that he had met with Agnew at the White House and given him $10,000 in cash [173] Another witness, Jerome B. Wolff, head of Maryland's road commission, had extensive documentation that detailed, as Beall put it, "every corrupt payment he participated in with then-Governor Agnew". [165]

Richardson, whom Nixon had ordered to take personal responsibility for the investigation, met with Agnew and his attorneys on August 6 to outline the case, but Agnew denied culpability, saying the selection of Matz's firm had been routine, and the money campaign contributions. The story broke in The Wall Street Journal later that day. [174] Agnew publicly proclaimed his innocence and on August 8 held a press conference at which he called the stories "damned lies". [175] Nixon, at a meeting on August 7, assured Agnew of his complete confidence, but Haig visited Agnew at his office and suggested that if the charges could be sustained, Agnew might want to take action prior to his indictment. By this time, the Watergate investigation that would lead to Nixon's resignation was well advanced, and for the next two months, fresh revelations in each scandal were almost daily fare in the newspapers. [175]

Under increasing pressure to resign, Agnew took the position that a sitting vice president could not be indicted and met with Speaker of the House Carl Albert on September 25, asking for an investigation. He cited as precedent an 1826 House investigation of Vice President John C. Calhoun, who was alleged to have taken improper payments while a cabinet member. Albert, second in line to the presidency under Agnew, responded that it would be improper for the House to act in a matter before the courts. [176] Agnew also filed a motion to block any indictment on the grounds that he had been prejudiced by improper leaks from the Justice Department, and tried to rally public opinion, giving a speech before a friendly audience in Los Angeles asserting his innocence and attacking the prosecution. [177] Nevertheless, Agnew entered into negotiations for a plea bargain on the condition that he would not serve jail time. [178] He wrote in his memoirs that he entered the plea bargain because he was worn out from the extended crisis, to protect his family, and because he feared he could not get a fair trial. [179] He made his decision on October 5, and plea negotiations took place over the following days. On October 9, Agnew visited Nixon at the White House and informed the President of his impending resignation. [180]

On October 10, 1973, Agnew appeared before the federal court in Baltimore, and pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to one felony charge, tax evasion, for the year 1967. Richardson agreed that there would be no further prosecution of Agnew, and released a 40-page summary of the evidence. Agnew was fined $10,000 and placed on three years' unsupervised probation. At the same time, Agnew submitted a formal letter of resignation to the Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, and sent a letter to Nixon stating he was resigning in the best interest of the nation. Nixon responded with a letter concurring that the resignation was necessary to avoid a lengthy period of division and uncertainty, and applauding Agnew for his patriotism and dedication to the welfare of the United States. House Minority Leader Gerald Ford, who would be Agnew's successor as vice president (and Nixon's as president) recalled that he heard the news while on the House floor and his first reaction was disbelief, his second sadness. [181]

Subsequent career: 1973–1990

Soon after his resignation, Agnew moved to his summer home at Ocean City. [4] To cover urgent tax and legal bills, and living expenses, he borrowed $200,000 from his friend Frank Sinatra. [182] He had hoped he could resume a career as a lawyer, but in 1974, the Maryland Court of Appeals disbarred him, calling him "morally obtuse". [183] To earn his living, he founded a business consultancy, Pathlite Inc., which in the following years attracted a widespread international clientele. [5] [184] One deal concerned a contract for the supply of uniforms to the Iraqi Army, involving negotiations with Saddam Hussein and Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania. [5]

Agnew pursued other business interests: an unsuccessful land deal in Kentucky, and an equally fruitless partnership with golfer Doug Sanders over a beer distributionship in Texas. [185] In 1976 he published a novel, The Canfield Decision, about an American vice president's troubled relationship with his president. The book received mixed reviews, but was commercially successful, with Agnew receiving $100,000 for serialization rights alone. [186] The book landed Agnew in controversy his fictional counterpart, George Canfield, refers to "Jewish cabals and Zionist lobbies" and their hold over the American media, a charge which Agnew, while on a book tour, asserted was true in real life. [187] This brought complaints from Seymour Graubard, of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, and a rebuke from President Ford, then campaigning for re-election. [188] Agnew denied any antisemitism or bigotry: "My contention is that routinely the American news media . favors the Israeli position and does not in a balanced way present the other equities". [189]

In 1980, Agnew wrote to Fahd bin Abdulaziz, at the time Crown Prince and de facto Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, claiming that he had been bled dry by attacks on him by Zionists and requesting an interest-free three-year loan of $2 million, to be deposited in a Swiss bank account, on which the interest would be available to Agnew. He stated that he would use the funds to fight Zionists and congratulated the Prince on his call for jihad against Israel, whose declaration of Jerusalem as its capital he characterized as "the final provocation". A subsequent thank-you letter implies that Agnew received the requested loan. [190] [191]

In 1976, Agnew announced that he was establishing a charitable foundation "Education for Democracy", but nothing more was heard of this after B'nai B'rith accused it of being a front for Agnew's anti-Israeli views. [185] Agnew was now wealthy enough to move in 1977 to a new home at The Springs Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, and shortly afterwards to repay the Sinatra loan. [182] That year, in a series of televised interviews with British TV host David Frost, Nixon claimed that he had had no direct role in the processes that had led to Agnew's resignation and implied that his vice president had been hounded by the liberal media: "He made mistakes . but I do not think for one minute that Spiro Agnew consciously felt that he was violating the law". [192] In 1980, Agnew published a memoir, Go Quietly . or Else. In it, he protested his total innocence of the charges that had brought his resignation, and claimed that he had been coerced by the White House to "go quietly" or face an unspoken threat of possible assassination, a suggestion that Agnew biographer Joseph P. Coffey describes as "absurd". [186] Agnew's assertions of innocence were undermined when his former lawyer George White testified that his client had admitted statehouse bribery to him, saying it had been going on "for a thousand years". [193]

After the publication of Go Quietly, Agnew largely disappeared from public view. [186] In a rare TV interview in 1980, he advised young people not to go into politics because too much was expected of those in high public office. [5] Students of Professor John F. Banzhaf III from the George Washington University Law School found three residents of the state of Maryland willing to put their names on a case that sought to have Agnew repay the state $268,482, the amount it was said he had taken in bribes, including interest and penalties, as a public employee. In 1981, a judge ruled that "Mr. Agnew had no lawful right to this money under any theory," and ordered him to pay the state $147,500 for the kickbacks and $101,235 in interest. [194] After two unsuccessful appeals by Agnew, he finally paid the sum in 1983. [195] In 1989, Agnew applied unsuccessfully for this sum to be treated as tax-deductible. [193]

Agnew also was briefly in the news in 1987, when as the plaintiff in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, he revealed information about his then-recent business activities through his company, Pathlite, Inc. Among other activities, Agnew arranged contracts in Taiwan and Saudi Arabia, and represented a conglomerate based in South Korea, a German aircraft manufacturer, a French company that made uniforms, and a dredging company from Greece. He also represented the Hoppmann Corporation, an American company attempting to arrange for communications work in Argentina. He also discussed with local businessmen a potential concert by Frank Sinatra in Argentina. Agnew wrote in court papers "I have one utility, and that's the ability to penetrate to the top people." [5]

Final years and death

For the remainder of his life, Agnew kept distant from news media and Washington politics. Stating he felt "totally abandoned", Agnew declined to take any and all phone calls from President Nixon. [196] When Nixon died in 1994, his daughters invited Agnew to attend the funeral at Yorba Linda, California. At first he refused, still bitter over how he had been treated by the White House in his final days as vice president over the years he had rejected various overtures from the Nixon camp to mend fences. He was persuaded to accept the invitation, and received a warm welcome there from his former colleagues. [197] "I decided after twenty years of resentment to put it aside", he said. [198] A year later, Agnew appeared at the Capitol in Washington for the dedication of a bust of him, to be placed with those of other vice presidents. Agnew commented: "I am not blind or deaf to the fact that some people feel that . the Senate by commissioning this bust is giving me an honor I don't deserve. I would remind these people that . this ceremony has less to do with Spiro Agnew than with the office I held". [199]

On September 16, 1996, Agnew collapsed at his summer home in Ocean City, Maryland. He was taken to Atlantic General Hospital, where he died the following evening. The cause of death was undiagnosed acute leukemia. Agnew remained fit and active into his seventies, playing golf and tennis regularly, and was scheduled to play tennis with a friend on the day of his death. The funeral, at Timonium, Maryland, was mainly confined to family Buchanan and some of Agnew's former Secret Service detail also attended to pay their final respects. [200] [201] In recognition of his service as vice president, an honor guard of the combined military services fired a 21-gun salute at the graveside. [202] Agnew's wife Judith survived him by 16 years, dying at Rancho Mirage on June 20, 2012. [13]

At the time of his death, Agnew's legacy was perceived largely in negative terms. The circumstances of his fall from public life, particularly in the light of his declared dedication to law and order, did much to engender cynicism and distrust towards politicians of every stripe. [4] His disgrace led to a greater degree of care in the selection of potential vice presidents. Most of the running mates selected by the major parties after 1972 were seasoned politicians—Walter Mondale, George H. W. Bush, Lloyd Bentsen, Al Gore, Jack Kemp, Joe Lieberman, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden—some of whom themselves became their party's nominee for president. [200]

Some recent historians have seen Agnew as important in the development of the New Right, arguing that he should be honored alongside the acknowledged founding fathers of the movement such as Goldwater and Reagan Victor Gold, Agnew's former press secretary, considered him the movement's "John the Baptist". [203] Goldwater's crusade in 1964, at the height of Johnsonian liberalism, came too early, but by the time of Agnew's election, liberalism was on the wane, and as Agnew moved to the right after 1968, the country moved with him. [200] Agnew's fall shocked and saddened conservatives, but it did not inhibit the growth of the New Right. [204] Agnew, the first suburban politician to achieve high office, helped to popularize the view that much of the national media was controlled by elitist and effete liberals. [203] Levy noted that Agnew "helped recast the Republicans as a Party of 'Middle Americans' and, even in disgrace, reinforced the public's distrust of government." [205]

For Agnew himself, despite his rise from his origins in Baltimore to next in line to the presidency, "there could be little doubt that history's judgment was already upon him, the first Vice President of the United States to have resigned in disgrace. All that he achieved or sought to achieve in his public life . had been buried in that tragic and irrefutable act". [206]

Levy sums up the "might-have-been" of Agnew's career thus:

It is not a far stretch to imagine that if Agnew had contested corruption charges half as hard as Nixon denied culpability for Watergate – as Goldwater and several other stalwart conservatives wanted him to – today we might be speaking of Agnew-Democrats and Agnewnomics, and deem Agnew the father of modern conservatism. [207]

Rancho Mirage, CA – Valley History: Former VP Spiro Agnew Came for Quiet Desert Retirement

” … He called student dissenters ‘basically parasitic’ and said, ‘They have never done a productive thing in their lives. They take their tactics from Fidel Castro.’ … ”


Spiro Agnew, the disgraced media-bashing vice president under Richard Nixon, experienced one of the fastest rises in American politics. But meteoric bursts often scatter to the earth. In Agnew’s case, it was to Rancho Mirage.

His career was in the classic American mold. His father came to the United States from Greece in 1896 and ran a restaurant in Baltimore. His American mother was from Virginia.

Agnew was born in 1918 and studied chemistry at Johns Hopkins University for three years. He married his wife, Judy, in 1942. A move to the University of Baltimore was interrupted by World War II, during which he earned a Bronze Star for service in France and Germany. He returned to earn his law degree, pass the bar exam and start his political career on a local level as president of the P.T.A. in his suburban Baltimore community.

He was elected Baltimore County executive in 1962 and left a record of improved schools and a strengthened police bureau.

Agnew easily won the governor’s seat in 1966 and in two short years enacted the largest tax increase in Maryland’s history, repeal of the state’s 306-year-old anti-miscegenation law, a graduated income tax and one of the nation’s toughest state antipollution laws.

He admitted, “the name of Spiro Agnew is not a household word” when Nixon picked him to be his vice presidential running mate in the 1968 presidential election. But his hard-line statements soon changed that. He called student dissenters “basically parasitic” and said, “They have never done a productive thing in their lives. They take their tactics from Fidel Castro and their money from Daddy.”

As Maryland governor and Nixon’s running mate, he made what was probably his first visit to the Coachella Valley. He represented the president-elect at the Dec. 3, 1968, Republican governors’ conference in Palm Springs.

After the election, his rhetoric grew even harsher:

He called leaders of the Vietnam war protest movement “an effete corps of impudent snobs.” Television and radio reporters were “the most superficial thinkers I’ve ever seen” or “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

He became Nixon’s point man, proclaiming himself the spokesman for “the silent majority.”

Although he was a likely candidate for the presidential nomination in 1976, Agnew’s political career came to a crashing halt in October 1973. He resigned after he was accused of taking bribes from construction companies while serving as Maryland governor. He pleaded no contest to charges of evading taxes on the bribes and paid a $10,000 fine.

His plea was part of a bargain that allowed him to avoid indictment on extortion charges. He was the second vice president to resign in office and the first to be forced out by legal troubles.

By then, the Agnews had visited the Coachella Valley numerous times and had become friends with Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. After he resigned, he and Judy moved to a winter home at the Springs Country Club in Rancho Mirage. They avoided publicity and lived a quiet, reserved country-club style life. He played tennis and golf. Neighbors recall seeing him bicycle around Rancho Mirage, dine at local restaurants and party, often at the Sinatra compound.

He ran a successful consulting service for businesses working in the Middle East and wrote a novel, “The Canfield Decision.” His autobiography, “Go Quietly Or Else,” published in 1980, declared his innocence in the bribery accusations.

The former vice president made his first local public appearance in more than two years in January 1982 to deliver the eulogy at St. Louis Catholic Church in Cathedral City for tenor saxophone player Vido Musso. Musso was a roommate of Sinatra when the two performed in the Harry James Band from 1940 to 1941.

Agnew died in September 1996 of undiagnosed leukemia at age 77 at his summer home in Maryland. He was buried beneath an oak tree in a cemetery in Timonium, Md.


Spiro Agnew was born in Baltimore, in the state of Maryland. His father was Theodore Spiros Agnew, a Greek immigrant who shortened his name from Anagnostopoulos when he moved to the USA (which was between 1897 and 1902), [2] [3] and Margaret Akers, a native of Virginia. He joined the US Army and served in both World War II and the Korean War.

After holding a number of political offices in Baltimore, he ran for Baltimore County Executive in 1962. In a race that was thought to go to the Democratic Party Agnew surprisingly won. While executive he was known for outlawing racial segregation. He ran for Governor in 1966. His opponent was George Mahoney, who ran on a racist and pro segregationist platform. Agnew won after many Democrats voted for him. While governor he passed tax reform, justice reform, anti pollution laws, and civil rights laws. He also took a tough stand against the black power movement, and this angered many civil rights leaders who had supported him.

Agnew was chosen as Richard Nixon's running mate in 1968. Nixon wanted to do better in the Southern States. Agnew, a moderate, also could get Democrats to vote for him. He was chosen as vice presidential candidate at the convention over George Romney. Agnew supported "law and order" a policy of enforcing the law strictly. Agnew took a hard stand against the anti-war movement. His sometimes dirty attacks led him to be called Nixon's "hatchet man". However he did speak out against the Kent State Shooting, where national guard troops shot protestors to death in Ohio.

Agnew enjoyed the privileges of being vice president. He was well liked by Nixon supporters, and made it onto the Republican national ticket again in 1972. But in 1973, it became clear that Agnew had been very corrupt in his career as governor and was facing several felony charges. He cut a plea deal and narrowly got out of having to serve a long time in prison.

Resignation, Disgrace and Death Edit

He resigned in disgrace in October 1973, and never spoke to Richard Nixon again (Nixon would himself resign in 1974 over a similar scandal). Agnew became a disgraced figure and never was very much involved in politics after that. His portrait was taken down in the Maryland Governor's Mansion and his bust was not put up as a former Vice President. When both were put on display, many criticized the decision to display them. He died in 1996 of leukemia. He was not given a state funeral of any kind and had a small funeral service. He was buried at a cemetery in Maryland.

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. (1929�). 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 (1913�) 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 (1911�) and Edmund S. Muskie (1914�) 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.

How the Party of Lincoln Became the Party of Racial Backlash

A few days after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Republican governor of Maryland, Spiro T. Agnew, strode into a conference room in downtown Baltimore. In the hours after King’s death, violence had broken out in the city along with Washington and Chicago, it was soon occupied by the United States Army. In response, Agnew called together the black community on April 11 for “a frank and far-reaching discussion.”

It wasn’t a discussion. It was a trap. The governor tore into the crowd for standing by while rioters ransacked stores and set cars on fire. They claimed to speak for racial harmony, he boomed, but when the violence began, “You ran.”

Within minutes, most of the audience members had stormed out at the door, they found a scrum of reporters, whom Agnew had tipped off. Within hours, Agnew’s confrontation was national news within days, this once-obscure first-time governor was being assailed as a racist by the left and hailed as a rising star in the Republican Party. That summer, Richard Nixon picked him as his running mate.

Fifty years later, we remember Spiro Agnew, if at all, as a bumbling vice president who later pleaded no contest to tax evasion, resigned in disgrace and ended his career funneling military surplus to Saddam Hussein and Nicolae Ceausescu. But his rise during the spring of 1968 is instructive because suddenly it feels so familiar: a white Republican who claimed to speak against radicalism and for the forgotten man, but in fact ran on exacerbating racial animosity. Far from a bit player, Agnew marked a watershed moment in American history, when the Republican Party committed itself to the shift from being the party of Lincoln to the party of white racial backlash.

The shift was no accident. By the late 1960s, the Republicans were in a bind. Black voters, once loyal to the party, had fled to the Democrats, who had largely shed their Southern, racist faction in favor of civil rights liberalism. Racial conservatives in the South and working-class districts in the North were there for the picking, but aligning with outright racists like George Wallace was a dead end he had an intense following, but he offended moderate voters, especially the millions of whites plowing into America’s postwar suburbs.

The answer, party strategists realized, lay in the thorny questions raised by the civil rights revolution. It was easy for most whites to get behind ending Jim Crow in the South it was harder for them to accept fair housing legislation or school busing, things that touched suburban New York or Chicago as much or more than they affected Atlanta or New Orleans.

Things got even more complicated with the increased frequency of summertime urban riots — Harlem in 1964, Watts in 1965, Newark and Detroit in 1967 — and the rise of black radicalism (an exaggerated “problem” most black radicals were more interested in community development than in violent revolution).

Housing integration, urban violence and black radicalism were distinct issues, but coming at the same time, and hyped by the news media as part of the same story, they led many middle-class whites to conclude that the civil rights revolution had gone too far. Soon after the King riots, U.S. News & World Report warned of “a big protest vote at the polls in November,” noting that “some politicians are beginning to call it ‘the revolt of the middle class.’” Opportunistic Republicans pounced.

Agnew was among the first — perhaps because he was both a political leader and exactly the sort of American the right sought to cultivate. The son of a Greek immigrant, he grew up in Baltimore, worked his way through law school, moved to the suburbs and implanted himself in the social milieu of postwar white America: Kiwanis clubs, bowling leagues, “The Lawrence Welk Show.” The man loved a good cardigan.

Early on, Agnew positioned himself as a racial liberal — he won the governor’s office in 1966 by running to the left on civil rights against George P. Mahoney, a pro-segregation Democrat. But his mood soon turned. He became obsessed with black “agitators” he had state law enforcement spy on civil rights activists, and when King was killed he shut down Bowie State University, one of the state’s historically black campuses, because he feared the students would riot.

Like many conservatives in both parties, Agnew was convinced that the wave of rioting in the late 1960s wasn’t the expression of black frustration over urban unemployment, discrimination and police brutality, but was the result of a conspiracy by black leaders. “The looting and rioting which has engulfed our city during the past several days did not occur by chance,” he told his audience that day in Baltimore.

Predictably, and justifiably, the state’s civil rights leaders excoriated him. But they were drowned out by the thousands of Americans who voiced praise. According to Agnew’s office, by the end of April 1968 he had received 7,588 letters and telegrams in support, against only 1,042 in opposition. The state’s suburban newspapers uniformly praised him as well.

“He was blunt but honest,” wrote the editorial board of The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Tribune. “Governor Agnew is that type of man who is needed in the White House,” one letter writer told The Washington Post.

Agnew wasn’t the only one taking a sudden hard line on the riots, or using them to build a case against civil rights liberalism in general. Nixon moved further to the right that spring and summer, abandoning his previous sympathy for urban blacks and adopting a fierce law-and-order stance. “The first civil right of every American is to be free from domestic violence,” he said in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Miami. On the same day he uttered those words, Nixon named Agnew as his running mate.

To political insiders and the media, Agnew was a disaster. He fumbled his speeches and once used a crude racial epithet to describe an Asian-American reporter. But as they did with Donald Trump a half-century later, pundits missed Agnew’s fundamental appeal. He said it like it was, and if he dropped an occasional racial slur, well, so did many white Americans.

Nixon’s campaign that fall was built on what would be called the Southern strategy, but as the historian Kevin Kruse has noted, it was really a suburban strategy. Nixon played to the middle by eschewing the overt racism of George Wallace. But he deployed a range of more subtle instruments — antibusing, anti-open housing — to appeal to the tens of millions of white suburbanites who imagined themselves to be racially innocent, yet quietly held many of the same prejudices about the “inner city” and “black radicals” that their parents had held about King and other civil rights activists.

The strategy worked. Though he beat Hubert Humphrey by just 0.7 percentage points, Nixon dominated the suburbs, which put him over the top in swing states like Tennessee and North Carolina.

Whether Agnew made the difference is impossible to say. His significance, though, lies elsewhere. He heralded a new kind of virulent racial politics in America, one that pretends to moderation and equality but feeds on division and prejudice — one that, 50 years later, we are still unable to move beyond.

In 1920, 699 foreign-born White people in Baltimore spoke the Greek language. [1]

In 1940, around 1,200 Greek Americans lived in Baltimore. [2] In the same year 1,193 immigrants from Greece lived in Baltimore. These immigrants comprised 2% of the city's foreign-born white population. [3]

The Greek community in the Baltimore metropolitan area numbered 16,764 as of 2000, making up 0.7 percent of the area's population. [4] In the same year Baltimore city's Greek population was 2,693, 0.4% of the city's population. [5]

In 2013, an estimated 2,611 Greek Americans resided in Baltimore city, 0.4% of the population. [6]

As of September 2014, immigrants from Greece were the twenty-fourth largest foreign-born population in Baltimore and the Greek language was the ninth most commonly spoken language other than English. [7]

19th century Edit

The first Greeks in Baltimore were nine young boys who arrived as refugees of the Chios Massacre, the slaughter of tens of thousands of Greeks on the island of Chios at the hands of the Ottomans during the Greek War of Independence. [2]

Immigrants from Greece first started to settle in Baltimore in large numbers during the 1890s. [8]

20th century Edit

Early Greek settlers established the Greek Orthodox Church “Evangelismos” in 1906 and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in 1909. [8]

By the 1920s, a vibrant yet small Greek community had been firmly established. The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was built to serve this growing community. [9] Because there was no direct steamship service from the Mediterranean to the port of Baltimore, many Greek immigrants came by train, often from New York City. [10]

The peak of the Greek migration to Baltimore was between the 1930s and the 1950s. [11] The Greek community gained its first political representation in 1959, when Peter Angelos became the first Greek American to be elected to the Baltimore City Council.

The Greek population saw another smaller surge in numbers after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which allowed for the immigration of thousands of Greeks. This wave of Greek immigrants to Baltimore ended by the early 1980s. During the 1980s the Greek residents of the neighborhood that was then known simply as the Hill successfully petitioned the city government to rename the neighborhood as Greektown. By that time the Greek community was 25,000 strong. [12]

21st century Edit

While there is still a strong Greek-American presence in Greektown and Highlandtown, the population of the Greek community has been declining. The population is aging and many have moved out of the original Greek neighborhoods. The Latino population is increasing rapidly as the Greek population decreases. [13] [14] [15] The majority of newcomers to the neighborhood are now Latino. [16]

There are a number of Greek-American restaurants in Baltimore, such as Ikaros, The Acropolis, The Black Olive, Samos, and Zorba's. There is also an annual Greek Folk Festival held at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

Baltimore historically had a Greek mafia presence. A two-year FBI investigation into a cocaine ring run by the Greek mafia in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. resulted in charges being filed in August 1987. [17]

Most Greek Americans in Baltimore belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, though a small minority have been Greek Jews. Most Greek Jews immigrated to the city during the early 1950s. The majority came from Thessaloniki, with the remainder mostly coming from Athens and Patras. The Greek Jews of Baltimore are primarily Sephardi. There are few Sephardim in Baltimore and there is no formal Greek synagogue or organization, so Sephardi Greek Jews have mostly joined the Ashkenazi community and have adopted many Ashkenazi customs. However, the Greek Jews of Baltimore have tended to preserve Greek Sephardi Orthodox naming customs and Greek Sephardi cuisine. During the Passover seder, Baltimore's Greek Jews traditionally serve hard-boiled eggs, avgolemono with lamb and matzah balls, latkes, and almond paste. [18]

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For the purposes of a bibliography entry or footnote, follow this model:

Wisconsin Historical Society Citation Wisconsin Historical Society, Creator, Title, Image ID. Viewed online at (copy and paste image page link). Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research Citation Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, Creator, Title, Image ID. Viewed online at (copy and paste image page link).

Agnew was often portrayed as Richard Nixon's hatchet man, as in this cartoon by caricature by Edmund Valtman. Library of Congress.

In the spring of 2016 the American Political Science Association polled forty scholars to name the worst vice president of the last century. Their consensus choice was an easy one: Spiro Agnew.

We disagree. Richard Nixon’s selection of Spiro Agnew to be his running mate in August 1968 proved to be one of the most underrated, consequential decisions in modern American politics, and it still reverberates a half century later. Although Agnew’s policy contributions during his five years in office were limited, he took on the important role of reshaping the trajectory of the Republican Party. His suburban, middle-class image, blended with his sharp-edged, anti-elite political style, launched his meteoric rise from an obscure county executive in a small border state to the man who was a heartbeat away from the presidency.

While there is no shortage of books about Richard Nixon, Bobby Kennedy, and the importance of the year 1968, scholarly work about Spiro Agnew is almost nonexistent. In our recent book, Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump’s America, we sought to give Agnew’s historical significance—for better or worse—its rightful place. We situate Agnew squarely, and prominently, in the lineage birthed by Barry Goldwater that is now ascendant in the GOP. It is a lineage that runs through Pat Buchanan’s presidential primary bids in 1992 and 1996, Sarah Palin’s brief star turn, the Tea Party, and most recently, Trumpism.

Since the 1960s the Republican Party has been based around a loose philosophy that has espoused support for smaller government, lower taxes, and a perceived toughness in foreign policy, particularly regarding the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The party found success at the national level in the past fifty years that had eluded it in the previous half century. And it has succeeded in achieving some of its primary policy purpose: the rollback of the New Deal/Great Society policy dominance that the Franklin Roosevelt/LBJ Democrats enjoyed from the 1930s through the 1960s.

Vice presidential scholars Christopher Devine and Kyle Kopko argue that the selection of the vice president often is justified on political, geographic, or policy grounds, but the electoral impact has been far from clear. The GOP establishment during these years nodded toward its populist wing by selective use of ticket balancing, best personified by vice presidential nominees like Bob Dole (1976), Dick Cheney (2000 and 2004), and Palin (2008). But in 2016 Trump was the firebrand at the top of the ticket. The more establishment figure (in this case Mike Pence) received the No. 2 spot to soothe the party’s old guard. In 1968 it was precisely this act of ticket balancing that helped launch Agnew’s career.

Agnew’s selection allowed Nixon to appear to be (at least in public) the establishment’s candidate. The Nixon tapes reveal that privately the president was always, in his own mind at least, on the outside of the establishment looking in. But with Agnew on the ticket, the Republicans embraced an anti-elitism that they had been wary of in past elections. With his classically good looks, slicked-back hair, and dark suits, Agnew talked sports with the passion of the average fan, which he was he claimed to bear the attacks on him by the “elite” on behalf of his fellow frustrated middle-class citizens throughout the land he loyally did his time supporting the president on the chicken-dinner circuit from Iowa to Idaho and he played a key role in turning the white South toward the Republican Party.

It was Agnew who spoke most directly to the emerging Republican base because he was truly one of them, unlike President Trump’s blue-collar billionaire persona. Agnew’s core anti-elite message, while perhaps short on conservative ideology, was long on the politics of antiestablishment, white working- and middle-class resentment. It has since become an article of faith. Trump and Pence bottled the same magic in 2016, and it helped them capture the White House by turning Rust Belt swing states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to the Republican column.

In 1968 and again in 1972 the Nixon-Agnew combination worked like a charm. While he was not an Ivy Leaguer, Nixon, having moved to Manhattan in 1963, was acceptable enough to the New England prep school wing of the Republican Party, which included legacies like the Bushes, the Lodges, and the Rockefellers. But Nixon could still connect with white, hardscrabble America in a way that spoke to his humble California upbringing. Agnew was something altogether different and new for the Republicans. Unlike the blue-blooded Henry Cabot Lodge, Nixon’s running mate in the 1960 presidential election, Agnew came straight out of Towson, Maryland. Time magazine dubbed him “Suburbman,” the type “whose life revolved around [his] four kids and [his] home, and who preferred family domestic life which, in years past, consisted largely of lawn sprinklers, pizza, ping pong in the basement rec room, Sunday afternoons watching the Baltimore Colts on color TV.”

With Agnew (left) on the ticket, Nixon was able to appeal to a wider population of voters than he might have otherwise. The two were easily re-nominated at the 1972 Republican National Convention, held August 21st to the 23rd in Miami Beach, Florida. National Archives

Agnew’s lasting influence was his ability to mix politics and emotion indeed, his scrappy temperament was arguably his most effective political weapon. Here he also shares the stage with Trump. While Nixon’s foreign and domestic policymaking legacy (obscured still by Watergate) included, among other achievements, the opening to China, the creation of significant environmental legislation, the signing of Title IX, and the negotiation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, it was Agnew, by giving voice to those anxious white middle- and working-class voters, who played a primary role in forging a new Republican electoral majority. This same deal appears to be taking form in the first term of the Trump administration, where the policy details are being left to congressional Republicans while the president continues to cement an emotional bond with his voters, seemingly no matter what he does.

Just eight years removed from a seat on the Baltimore County zoning board and a single term as Baltimore County executive, Agnew had served fewer than two years as governor of Maryland when Nixon nominated him to be vice president in 1968. He was a national candidate with such a weak political resume that there is almost no historical parallel. That such a political novice could by 1969 become the third-most respected man in the country behind Richard Nixon and Billy Graham speaks volumes to the chord he quickly struck with the American people.

Agnew became a decorated World War II soldier, then moved on to law school, the suburbs, and to lawyering and eventually into politics. Nixon and his closest aides realized early on that Agnew was out of his league on policy matters and had very little idea of how to operate in the White House environment. In April 1969, just three months into the Nixon-Agnew team’s first term, H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, wrote in his diary: “VP called just before dinner and said he had to talk to Nixon. . . . Later [Nixon] called me into bedroom to report, furious, that all he wanted was some guy to be Director of the Space Council. May turn out to be straw that breaks the camel’s back. [Agnew] just has no sensitivity, or judgment about his relationship with Nixon. After movie we were walking home and Nixon called me back, again to ponder the Agnew problem.”

This book leaves the task of a full-on biography to others. Instead, we offer the following chapters as tight, selective snapshots from Agnew’s career framed within a larger political narrative. Together they reveal Agnew’s surprising ability to navigate the changing tides of post—World War II American politics. As his aide David Keene explained, “He was sort of a self-made guy who grew up on the block in Baltimore and went to night school, and people talked about how he’d studied his list of words in Reader’s Digest.” The future vice president’s father was a diner-owning Greek immigrant.

Agnew, who famously called the press "nattering nabobs of negativism," went on the attack at the National Press Club while President Nixon declined their invitation. Courtesy National Press Club.

Agnew never made it into Nixon’s inner circle on foreign or domestic policy and later slammed his former boss for having “an inherent distrust of anyone who had an independent political identity.” Nixon’s staff thought even less of Agnew, but that would later play out in the vice president’s favor.

He was so far out of Nixon’s orbit that he had absolutely nothing to do with the Watergate scandal. Instead, he seemed destined to attend state funerals, take long goodwill trips abroad, and represent the White House on low-priority domestic issues. Nixon couldn’t stand Agnew personally, and he seriously contemplated replacing him in 1972 with Texas governor John Connolly, a conservative Democrat who would later become a Republican. He ultimately decided otherwise, conceding correctly that Agnew, in the meantime and much to everyone’s surprise, had become an icon to the GOP base.

Instead of dwelling in vice presidential obscurity, Agnew in 1969 and 1970 turned himself into a valuable ambassador to the white South and the great silent majority. He was a leading fund-raiser at Lincoln Day dinners and the like, speaking to adoring crowds in places including Des Moines, Birmingham, and Boise. At these events he injected into the national dialogue the idea that the media was biased against conservatives. He attacked the Democratic Party for taking white southerners for granted, and he lashed out at the culture of permissiveness and the antiwar protests on college campuses. Agnew’s best-known speech on what he saw as the corrupting power of television network news identified a “small group of men, numbering perhaps no more than a dozen anchormen, commentators, and executive producers, [who] settle upon the 20 minutes or so of film and commentary that’s to reach the public.”

The 1969 speech became an instant classic, and while it is now a shibboleth of the Republican Party, it was originally met with hue and cry from the very media “elite” Agnew attacked — proving his point to his followers. But it also built a foundation, just as Pat Buchanan prophesized in 1970, for conservatives to “give consideration to ways and means if necessary to acquire either a government or other network through which we can tell our story,” thus connecting Agnew’s take on the media to the creation of Fox News and the alt-right.

His attacks on the media catapulted Agnew to a new level of national political prominence. Forgotten now is that he was legitimately being touted, along with Ronald Reagan and Nelson Rockefeller, as an early leader for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. But with George Wallace ready to make another run in 1972, it remained critically important for Nixon’s reelection that the emerging southern leadership of the Republican Party, including politicians like South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond, was behind the national ticket. Thurmond was on record as saying, “South Carolina will favor Spiro Agnew for president in 1976.” And it helped that Senator Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP nominee and spiritual godfather of the emerging conservative movement, also supported retaining the sitting vice president, pointedly arguing, “Agnew’s popularity equals that of the President.”

Of course, there would be no “Spiro of ‘76,” as the early bumper stickers proclaimed. The presidential talk was aborted by Agnew’s resignation in October 1973 and his replacement by Gerald Ford. As legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee noted, “It is a measure of the darkness of the Watergate cloud that in only a few days, Agnew was history. The country welcomed the new Vice President, and returned to their seats to await the start of the final act.” Watergate consumed all the political oxygen in the aftermath of Agnew’s departure. Nixon resigned just ten months later.

Less than a year after re-election and before Nixon was forced out of office amid the Watergate scandal, Agnew himself resigned the vice presidency after pleading guilty to income tax evasion. He was replaced by Michigan U.S. Rep. Gerald Ford (second from left), pictured here alongside Agnew (far left), South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu (middle), and other members of Congress during a meeting on April 5, 1973. Courtesy of Carl Albert Research and Studies Center, Congressional Collection.

The sordid details of Agnew’s sudden resignation — he was charged with tax evasion in October 1973 — explain part of his quick fade into history and his lack of historical recognition. While there is some speculation as to why he capitulated to the prosecutors so suddenly, there is little ambiguity about Agnew’s guilt. Nixon’s solicitor general, Robert Bork, argued that Agnew “had to resign otherwise, he was going to jail.”

While the vice president would later maintain that he was innocent of the allegations that compelled him to resign, his primary line of defense in private during the summer and fall of 1973 was that everyone else in Maryland took kickbacks, too. Agnew accepted what amounted to bribes for construction contracts that started while he was in Towson and continued in Annapolis when he was governor later and during his time as vice president. As Richard Cohen, who covered the investigation for the Washington Post, later said, “This was a thoroughly corrupt man. He shook down everybody. . . . He was shameless.”

After pleading nolo contendere for failing to declare the bribes as income, Agnew disappeared suddenly from the political scene. He lived out an odd couple of decades, playing golf in Palm Springs with his pal Frank Sinatra and authoring a steamy spy novel that he tried to turn into a movie, as well as a memoir that focused on his version of the events that led to his resignation. His attempts to find work as a disbarred lawyer-turned-lobbyist for Middle Eastern princes and other international strongmen were embarrassing.

Public appearances were rare. There was, as he wrote later, a “more subtle punishment” inflicted upon him: “I cannot walk through a hotel lobby or down a street and simply be one of the crowd. Although I have none of the benefits of public life — no pension, no former statesman status, no diplomatic passport to ease my comings and goings in my international business affairs — I have retained a major impediment of public life. I have no privacy because I am recognized all over the world. When people stop and stare at you, you know some are thinking: “There goes Agnew, the guy who was kicked out of the vice-presidency.”

Even the U.S. Senate, where Agnew had presided from 1969 to 1973 as vice president, seemed to wish him away. The Senate withheld the traditional installation of his bust in its antechambers for more than two decades. When the statue was finally unveiled in 1995, the ceremony was pointedly not attended by either of Maryland’s U.S. senators. Agnew acknowledged mournfully, “I’m not blind or deaf to the fact that some people feel that this is a ceremony that should not take place.” He died a year later near his beach home in Ocean City, Maryland.

The vice president’s swift departure from the national spotlight, his sad plea bargain deal (which came on the heels of a public vow to fight until the bitter end), and his lack of any lasting policy legacy certainly are contributing reasons for his ghosting from American political history. The same handful of Agnew anecdotes and conversations are recycled in most biographies of Nixon. Agnew is occasionally worth a mention for pundits wishing to illustrate the perils of choosing an unknown running mate with little national experience. We believe, however, that the current narrative is incomplete.

Looking back now, we can see that Agnew’s nomination and ascendance as a national political figure helped fuse a broad-based coalition that connected Wall Street with the growing suburban middle class and a disgruntled white working class. It helped create a bond of political and cultural convenience between conservative country clubbers, a growing religious movement, and “betrayed” white southerners looking for a new home after Lyndon Johnson’s decision to back civil rights in 1964. Agnew made the most of his time in office to blaze a political trail that his protege and speechwriter, Pat Buchanan, would reprise in his own presidential campaigns in 1992 and 1996. But many Republicans originally met Agnew’s selection as vice president with deep skepticism.

Indeed, Agnew was as surprised as anyone to be chosen. After being nominated by Nixon at the Republican National Convention in Miami in August 1968, he told reporters that the selection had come “like a bolt out of the blue.” He also knew that “the name Spiro Agnew is not a household name. I certainly hope it will become one within the next couple of months.”

Born in Baltimore in 1918 and elected governor of Maryland in 1969, Agnew was a little-known figure in national politics before Nixon tapped him as vice president. He was sworn-in on January, 20, 1969. National Archives

In his acceptance speech he stated outright, “I stand here with a deep sense of the improbability of this moment.” Many mainstream Republicans agreed. Michigan governor George Romney got 186 delegates (14 percent of the total) from the floor during the nomination process despite Nixon’s endorsement. Maryland congressman Rogers Morton, who knew Agnew well and would later be appointed chair of the Republican National Committee, privately told Nixon that while Agnew was potentially a very good candidate, he had a tendency to be “lazy.”

But as Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg pointed out in their 1970 examination of the Nixon coalition, The Real Majority, “Strom Thurmond may have liked John Tower on the ticket. Nelson Rockefeller might have liked Mark Hatfield on the ticket—but Thurmond couldn’t go home with Hatfield and Rockefeller couldn’t go home with Tower. Everyone could go home with Agnew—maybe grumpily . . . but it was a livable arrangement.”

Almost immediately after his nomination, and again after the victorious election, Agnew began to blaze a rhetorical path on race, culture, and the frustrations of Middle America. It got him on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1970, arms folded and peering out under the headline “Stern Voice of the Silent Majority: Spiro Agnew Knows Best.” He insulted and talked tough. Speaking to the GOP faithful and the newly converted at overflow crowds throughout the South and rural America, he went after the apostates in his own party and his perceived enemies with a vengeance. Agnew spoke directly to “the great majority of the voters in America [in 1968 who] are un-young, un-poor, and un-black they are middle-aged, middle-class, middle-minded.”

A half century later Donald Trump followed Agnew’s playbook, likely without knowing it, in order to consolidate political support and national media attention. Denigrate minorities? Take on the news media and the biases of academics and intellectuals? Knock “political correctness” and elites? Publicly admonish members of your own party? Trump and Agnew could answer affirmatively to all these questions, separated by nearly fifty years.By 1969 Agnew was calling the news media biased and criticizing intellectuals and war protesters as “an impudent corps of effete snobs.” He stood for law and order and against anyone who opposed the Vietnam War. During the 1970 midterm elections Nixon deployed him as an attack dog not only against Democrats but against liberal Republicans who dared to challenge his administration. Politically and strategically, Agnew discovered how to make himself essential both to Nixon and to the creation of the modern Republican Party.

Trump’s campaign made explicit use of the Nixon-era buzzwords “silent majority” and “law and order.” Trump routinely used Agnew-like attacks on the perceived bias of the liberal media. Both men excelled at the political counterpunch and tilted against sacred norms and traditions of American political life. They each employed a slash-and-burn campaign style, carried their lack of elected political experience around as badges of honor, and are (or will be) remembered as overwhelmingly prideful men who lacked the humility to admit their mistakes. Put the similarities together and it is hard to deny that Spiro Agnew was a harbinger of things to come in American politics.

Agnew and Trump come together perhaps most closely as cultural critics for the white working class. As champions of the white everyman against Democratic Party liberal elites — the professional classes, the media, the entertainment community, the intellectuals, and the bien-pensants of the coasts — Agnew and Trump were viewed as heroes not just for their own personas but for the enemies they made. As Trump pointed out during the primaries, his followers were so loyal, he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and [not] lose voters.” Similarly, Agnew received thousands of letters from supporters pledging their undying allegiance even after he resigned and pled nolo contendere to tax evasion.

Agnew's blue-collar persona and criticism of the media earned him widespread appeal among GOP voters, so much so that he was touted as a potential contender for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination alongside figures like Ronald Reagan (far right) and Nelson Rockefeller (not pictured). National Archives

Both Agnew and Trump made it possible for a working stiff or mid-level office worker to vote Republican, because they countered the charge that the GOP was the party of the rich by pointing out the snobbery and elitism of liberal Democrats and their politically correct supporters.

Like Agnew, Trump had been a registered Democrat before switching parties. He had also been critical of Ronald Reagan. But Trump’s entrance and elevation into Republican Party politics was colored by the politics of race, much like Agnew’s sudden rise to national attention after the riots in Baltimore following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. As early as 2011 Trump challenged the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s citizenship. And the centerpiece of his speech announcing his candidacy focused on building a wall and making broad-brush generalizations about Mexican immigrants in the United States.

Trump’s political use of racialized offensive language is well documented. His playbook mimics Agnew’s in style and substance. And he is speaking to a similar constituency the one-third to 40 percent of American voters who are Trump supporters resemble Agnew’s old silent majority population. Trump’s speeches have been given almost exclusively in Agnew’s old political stomping grounds—far from the East and West Coasts.

Agnew and Trump’s relationship with the press and the intellectual elites is also a core part of their political identities. Trump’s all-out assault on the veracity of the news media is in many ways the apotheosis of Agnew’s assertions in 1969 about the power of network news to shape public opinion. Trump’s pronouncements, like Agnew’s, are peppered with the law and order tilt of ending “American carnage,” calling out the media as “the enemy of the people,” and branding those that don’t agree with his immigration policies as politically correct. Like Agnew, Trump plays up his unfamiliarity with the ways of Washington, D.C., and rallies those left behind by the postwar/post-recession boom that exacerbated the divide between rich and poor, black and white, and urban and rural America.

The Agnew and Trump messages were, and are, angrier, edgier, and more accusatory than the Eisenhower or the Bush Republicans were used to, but they resonated with white America because they reinforced a perception that the civil rights movement or the Black Lives Matter drive was too militant, that intellectuals were too liberal, and that the media was too self-righteous and opinionated. The modern Republican Party, which in 2016 attained a position of dominance not seen since before Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, owes Spiro Agnew a debt of gratitude. Whether this makes Agnew the worst vice president or not, it certainly makes him deeply and historically significant.

Like Joseph McCarthy, to whom he is often compared, Spiro Agnew was much less significant as a man than as a phenomenon. In the 2016 presidential election cycle, as pundits and pollsters predicted Hillary Clinton’s victory, many were tempted to say that demographic shifts, the gender gap, and a coalition of urban elites and minority voters portended long-term Democratic success. The results of the election proved otherwise. Donald Trump’s victory in the electoral college exposed the political math that a new Democratic “coalition of the ascendant” is not yet able to rebrand the GOP as the party of economic elites and “the 1 percent.”

Now more than ever, Spiro Agnew’s Republican Party governs America. The new political roads Americans will travel in the twenty-first century will be across terrain shaped at least in part by this most unlikely of forgotten politicians who had no comeback or second act. His unprepossessing life has produced an oddly enduring legacy.

Watch the video: KFMB-8 KNBC-4 Oct 10,1973 Vice President SPIRO AGNEW RESIGNS News. (May 2022).