Spiro Theodore Agnew, (November 9, 1918 September 17, 1996) in Towson, Maryland, was the thirty-ninth Vice President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1973 under President Richard M. Nixon.
Spiro Agnew was born to Theodore Spiros Anagnostopoulos and Margaret Akers. His father emigrated from Gargalianoi, Messinia, Greece to the United States in 1897 and owned a restaurant. He would become a Baltimore Democratic ward leader and well known in the local Greek community, though he was Episcopalian. His mother was from Virginia.
Agnew attended public schools in Baltimore before enrolling in Johns Hopkins University in 1937. He studied chemistry at Johns Hopkins University for three years before being drafted to join the U.S. Army and serving in Europe during World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in France and Germany.
Prior to leaving for Europe, Agnew began working at an insurance company where he met and, on May 27, 1942, married another company employee, Elinor Isabel Judefind, known as Judy (born April 23, 1921 in Baltimore, Maryland. They would eventually have four children: Pamela, James Rand, Susan, and Kimberly.
Upon his return from the war, Agnew transferred to the evening program at the University of Baltimore School of Law, which was then a private school. He studied law at night while working as a grocer and as an insurance salesman.
Agnew received a law degree in 1947 and moved to the suburbs to begin practicing law in Towson in Baltimore County. He passed the bar in 1949.
Agnew, raised as a Democrat, switched parties and became a Republican to fit in with his Republican law partners. During the 1950s, he aided U.S. Congressman James Devereux in four successive winning election bids, before entering politics himself in 1957 upon his appointment to the Baltimore County Board of Appeals by Democratic Baltimore County Executive Michael J. Birmingham . In 1960, he made his first elective run for office as a candidate for Judge of the Circuit Court, finishing last in a five-person contest. The following year, the new Democratic Baltimore County Executive Christian H. Kahl dropped him from the Zoning Board, with Agnew loudly protesting, thereby gaining a good deal of name recognition.
In 1962, Agnew ran for election as County Executive of Baltimore County, seeking office in a predominantly Democratic county that had seen no Republican elected to that position in the twentieth century, with only one (Roger B. Hayden) earning victory after he left. Running as a reformer and Republican outsider, he took advantage of a bitter split in the Democratic Party and was elected.
While his later tenure as U.S. Vice President would bring criticism regarding civil rights, Agnew backed and signed an ordinance outlawing discrimination in some public accomodations, among the first laws of this kind in the United States. After choosing not to seek a second term, Agnew decided to run for Governor of Maryland in 1966. In this overwhelmingly Democratic state, he was elected after the Democratic nominee, George P. Mahoney, a Baltimore paving contractor and perennial candidate running on an anti-racial integration platform, narrowly won the Democratic gubernatorial primary out of a crowded slate of eight candidates. Many Democrats opposed to segregation then crossed party lines to give Agnew the governorship by 82,000 votes. Agnew became the fifth Republican governor in Maryland history and the last before the election of Robert Ehrlich in 2002.
As governor, Agnew worked with the Democratic legislature to pass tax and judicial reforms, as well as one of the nation's toughest anti-pollution laws. Projecting an image of racial moderation, Agnew signed the state's first open-housing laws and also successfully worked to repeal the anti-miscegenation law that had stood for more than three centuries. However, during the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Agnew angered many African-American leaders by lecturing them about their constituents in stating, "I call on you to publicy repudiate all black racists. This, so far, you have been unwilling to do."
Agnew's moderate image, immigrant background and successful political career in a traditionally Democratic state made him an attractive running mate for Nixon in 1968. Agnew's nomination was supported by certain conservatives within the Republican Party and by Nixon, who encouraged the Republican National Convention to nominate Agnew. But a small band of delegates started shouting "Spiro Who?" and tried to place George Romney's name in nomination. Nixon's wishes prevailed and thus, Agnew went from his first election as County Executive to Vice President in six years. Agnew is also the last Governor elected as Vice President.
It is commonly said that Agnew's rise from county executive in 1962 to the vice presidency in 1968 was the most meteoric in political history.
Agnew was known for his tough criticisms of political opponents, especially liberal journalists who he charged were guilty of advocacy journalism in the coverage, particularly of the Vietnam War. He was known for attacking his opponents with unusual turns of phrase. Among his most famous were "nattering nabobs of negativism," which his speechwriter William Safire coined, and "effete corps of impudent snobs." White House speechwriter Patrick Buchanan has been credited with coming up with "pusillanimous pussyfoots" and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history." Agnew is also generally credited with being the first to use the term "radiclib," an abbreviation of "radical liberal."
Agnew toned down his rhetoric and dropped most of the alliterations after the 1972 general elections.
On October 10, 1973, Agnew became the second Vice President to resign the office. Unlike John C. Calhoun, who resigned to take a seat in the Senate, Agnew resigned and then pled no contest to a criminal charge of tax evasion, part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he allegedly accepted $29,500 in bribes during his tenure as governor of Maryland. Agnew was fined $10,000 and put on three years' probation. He was later disbarred by the State of Maryland. His resignation triggered the first use of the 25th Amendment, as the vacancy prompted the appointment and confirmation of Gerald R. Ford as his successor. It remains one of only two times that the amendment has been employed to fill a Vice Presidential vacancy. The other time was when Ford chose Nelson Rockefeller to succeed him as Vice President.
Agnew had been widely expected to succeed Nixon as the Republican Party's presidential nominee in the 1976 election before the Watergate scandal broke out. Agnew had always blamed Nixon for releasing the accusations of bribes and tax evasion in order to divert attention from the growing Watergate scandal that was engulfing Nixon's administration. As fate would have it, Nixon was forced from office but Agnew's earlier resignation and criminal charges ruined his hopes of becoming President. The two men never spoke to each other again, although Agnew did attend Nixon's funeral in 1994.
After leaving politics, Agnew became an international trade executive with homes in Rancho Mirage, California, Crofton, Maryland and Ocean City, Maryland.
Agnew died suddenly on September 17, 1996 at the age of 77 at Atlantic General Hospital, in Berlin, Maryland in Worcester County (near his Ocean City home) only a few hours after being hospitalized and diagnosed with an advanced, yet to that point undetected, form of leukemia. He is buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, a cemetery in Timonium, Maryland in Baltimore County.
- Agnew biography on U.S. Senate website
- University of Maryland's repository for all things Spiro Agnew
- Picture of Agnew's gravesite at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens
- Rotten.com bio