Spiro Agnew: The Almost President

On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew became the first U.S. Vice President to resign his position under duress. An impending criminal conviction combined with pressure from President Richard Nixon, who was himself under investigation, led Agnew to deliver the following statement to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: “I hereby resign the office of Vice President of the United States, effective immediately.”

Spiro T. Agnew was born in November 1918 in Baltimore, Maryland. He served as an officer in the US Army during WWII. Agnew was a law student at the University of Baltimore and practiced law for about 10 years before beginning his political career. Agnew was voted in as governor of Maryland in 1967. As far as Agnew’s politics went, his have been considered the origin of the Trump GOP. Authors of a book on the subject said that, as a politician, Agnew took on “what decades later would become the holy trinity of targets for Trump’s MAGA movement—the media, coastal elites, and higher education—Agnew went from punchline to patron saint of middle America” (2). In 1968, Richard Nixon chose Agnew as his running partner, and Agnew became more and more popular with a group of radical republicans into his second term as vice president. It certainly seemed that Agnew had the republican nomination for the 1976 presidential election in the bag.

However, in 1973, the US Justice Department began investigating charges of income-tax evasion and bribery during Agnew’s time as Governor of Maryland. Though Agnew aggressively fought the claims of wrong-doing, the evidence soon became undeniable. Agnew had received money in return for awarding high-priced government contracts and had not reported that money on his taxes. By this time, the Nixon administration knew Agnew was unlikely to escape conviction, and Nixon was facing his own criminal indictment for the Watergate Scandal. According to the US line of presidential succession, if both Nixon and Agnew were removed from office by impeachment, House Speaker Carl Albert, democrat, would have taken office. To avoid giving a democrat the job, Nixon’s administration sought to remove Agnew from office and replace him with a suitable successor by pressuring Agnew to resign.

Agnew’s lawyers came to an agreement with the Justice Department that Agnew would plead “nolo contendere,” or no contest, to the charges of tax evasion, and the Justice Department would drop the charges of bribery and extortion against him. Agnew was fined $10,000 and sentenced to three years’ probation. He was disbarred by the state of Maryland the following year. Less than a year after Agnew’s departure from office, President Richard Nixon resigned due to accusations surrounding the Watergate Scandal, ceding the presidency to Agnew’s replacement, Gerald Ford.

Learn more here:

  1. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Spiro-Agnew
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/made-by-history/2023/04/10/there-is-precedent-trumps-indictment-spiro-agnew/
  3. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/1010.html

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