Spiro Theodore Agnew’s meteoric political career is matched by its precipitous denouement. Within a six-year period, Agnew went from county executive to vice president to convicted criminal.
Born in Baltimore, Agnew attended Forest Park Senior High School and studied chemistry at Johns Hopkins before joining the U.S. Army and serving in Europe during World War II. After his military service, he attended University of Baltimore Law School, graduating in 1947. He practiced law in suburban Baltimore for several years.
In 1962, Agnew was elected Baltimore county executive. Four years later he was elected Governor of Maryland. In 1968, Richard Nixon named Agnew as his running mate.
As vice president, Agnew was Nixon’s reliable attack dog, viciously critical of political opponents, journalists, and anti-Vietnam War activists. He was known for colorful epithets crafted by White House speechwriters, such as “nattering nabobs of negativism,” “pusillanimous pussyfooters,” and “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”
After Nixon and Agnew were reelected in 1972, Agnew came under investigation by the Justice Department for corruption extending back to his days as a county executive. He was charged with accepting bribes and falsifying federal tax returns. Agnew denied the charges but resigned the vice presidency on October 10, 1973.
Agnew pleaded nolo contendre (no contest) to a single charge of failing to report $29,500 in income received in 1967. He was fined, placed on three years’ probation, and subsequently disbarred.
Agnew has the dubious distinction of being the second vice president to resign the office (John C. Calhoun resigned in 1832 to accept a seat in the U.S. Senate), and the first to leave under a cloud of scandal and with a criminal record.
Agnew worked as an international trade executive until his death in 1996. His cremated remains are interred at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.