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Governor of Maryland, Vice-President of the United States
Spiro Theodore Agnew was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 9, 1918. He attended public schools and went to Johns Hopkins University in 1937 to study chemistry, before transferring to the University of Baltimore Law School, where he studied law at night while working at a grocery and an insurance company during the day. Drafted into the Army in 1942, he won a Bronze Star for his service in France and Germany. He returned to school on the GI Bill of Rights, received his law degree in 1947, and began practicing in a Baltimore firm; he later opened his own law practice in the Baltimore suburb of Towson.
Although his father was a Baltimore Democratic war leader and Agnew had first registered as a Democrat, his law partners were Republicans and he joined their party. In 1957, the Democratic County Executive of Baltimore County appointed him to the Board of Zoning Appeals. He made his first bid for elective office in 1960, coming in fifth in a five-person contest for Associate Circuit Judge. In 1961, when a new County Executive dropped him from the Zoning Board, Agnew protested vigorously and in so doing built his name recognition in the county. In 1962, as a Republican reformer, he became the first Republican to be elected Baltimore County Executive in the 20th century. In this capacity he won passage of the first local public accommodations law south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
As the Republican candidate for Governor of Maryland in 1966, Agnew was pitted against Democrat George Mahoney. An arch segregationist, Mahoney drove many liberal Democrats into Agnew's camp, and Agnew became just the fifth Republican since 1776 to be elected Governor of Maryland. As Governor, Agnew backed tax and judicial reforms, a limited state open housing law, and some of the toughest anti-pollution laws in the country.
During the early stages of the 1968 Republican presidential campaign, Agnew supported a move to draft Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York. He visited Rockefeller several times and organized a national committee to support his candidacy. In March, when Rockefeller withdrew, Agnew turned to a favorite-son role. At the Republican National Convention, he gave 18 of Maryland's 26 votes to Richard Milhous Nixon, and became such a loyal supporter that he was asked to place Nixon's name in nomination. He was then subsequently chosen to be Nixon's Vice-Presidential running-mate.
As Vice-President, Agnew became known for his flamboyantly phrased speeches denouncing liberals, radicals, and other critics of the Nixon administration. He charged that opponents of the Vietnam War were encouraged by "an effete corps of impudent snobs." He said that some newspapers and magazines critical of the administration were often unfair and inaccurate and contended that "a small and unelected elite," unrepresentative of the American people and often biased, controlled television news programs. Although many people, including President Nixon, deplored Agnew's attacks, he was popular among political conservatives and at Republican fund-raisers. At one point Nixon had even considered replacing Agnew with John Connally, a Democrat, but he eventually decided to keep Agnew for the 1972 race, which they won.
In August 1973 it was revealed that Agnew was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore on charges of bribery, extortion, tax fraud, and conspiracy. In October U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson formally charged him with having accepted bribes totaling more than $100,000 while holding office as County Executive, Governor, and Vice-President. Agnew asserted his innocence, but on October 10, 1973 he resigned the vice-presidency and then pleaded nolo contendere to a single charge of failing to report $29,500 of income in 1967. He was fined $10,000 and placed on three years' probation.
After leaving office Agnew moved to Rancho Mirage, California, where he started a successful business career as an international broker.
Spiro Theodore Agnew died of leukemia, in Berlin, Maryland, on September 17, 1996.
Agnew's father was a Greek immigrant whose last name originally was Anagnostopoulos.
On May 27, 1942, Agnew married Elinor Isabel Judefind. The couple had three daughters -- Pamela, Susan, and Kimberly -- and one son -- James Rand.
In his book Go Quietly...or Else (1980), Agnew charged that he had been pressured into resigning by threats on his life. He was also the author of a novel, The Canfield Decision, in which the protagonist was a wheeling and dealing American Vice-President "destroyed by his own ambition."
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This page was last updated on December 30, 2017.