Spiro Agnew Resigns as the Vice President
On October 10, 1973, Spiro 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 pleaded no contest to criminal charges of tax evasion, part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he was accused of accepting $29,500 in bribes during his tenure as governor of Maryland. Agnew was fined $10,000 and put on three years' probation. The $10,000 fine only covered the taxes and interest due on what was "unreported income" from 1967. The plea bargain was later mocked as the "greatest deal since the Lord spared Isaac on the mountaintop", by former Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs. Students of Professor John F. Banzhaf III from the George Washington University Law School, collectively known as Banzhaf's Bandits, found four residents of the state of Maryland willing to put their names on a case and sought to have Agnew repay the state $268,482 - the amount it was said he had taken in bribes. After two appeals by Agnew, he finally resigned himself to the matter and a check for $268,482 was turned over to Maryland state Treasurer William James in early 1983.
As a result of his no contest plea, Agnew was later disbarred by the State of Maryland. As in most jurisdictions, Maryland lawyers are automatically disbarred after being convicted of a felony, and a no contest plea exposes the defendant to the same penalties as a guilty plea.
His resignation triggered the first use of the 25th Amendment, as the vacancy prompted the appointment and confirmation of Gerald Ford, the House Minority Leader, as his successor. It remains one of only two times that the amendment has been employed to fill a Vice Presidential vacancy. The second time was when Ford, after becoming President upon Nixon's resignation, chose Nelson Rockefeller (originally Agnew's mentor in the moderate wing of the Republican Party) to succeed him as Vice President.
Agnew’s official portrait was removed from the Maryland State House Governor’s Reception Room from 1979 until 1995.
On October 10, 1973, following months of pressure and scandal, Vice President Spiro Agnew turned in his letter of resignation to President Nixon (who was soon to follow him) becoming only the second vice president to resign.* Michigan representative Gerald R. Ford took his place as vice president on December 6, 1973.
Agnew began his political life as a liberal Democrat and ended it as a law-and-order Republican who pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to charges of tax fraud. He once called the media "nattering nabobs of negativism"** and found a political base with both social conservatives and what would later be called Reagan Democrats.
He rose quickly from a mere county executive of Baltimore County in 1962 to the Republican candidate for governor of Maryland in 1966. The Democrats nominated a race-baiting candidate and Agnew, running to the left of him, won becoming one of the first Republican governors south of the Mason-Dixon line since the Civil War. Just two years later, Nixon chose him to be his far-right, hippie-bashing, anti-intellectual attack dog - a role he (along with speechwriters William Safire and Pat Buchanan) clearly relished.
In fact, he was a hero to many and the subject of one of the first fads of the decade: T-shirts and other products sporting his image were mass-produced (check your local thrift store or our eBay links below and to the right). To his credit, Agnew refused royalties for merchandise with his likeness and instead asked that any proceeds go to aid families of American POWs. As you will see later, the "royalties" he chose to keep came from far deeper pockets.
Agnew's Cinderella story had a dark ending however. After he and Nixon were reelected in 1972, the Vice President came under investigation by the Justice Department for corruption extending back to his days as a county executive. Specifically, he was charged with taking kickbacks from contractors seeking construction work. Agnew vehemently denied all charges but resigned the Vice Presidency on October 10, 1973. He pleaded nolo contendre (no contest) to a single charge of failing to report $29,500 in income he received in 1967. He was fined and placed on three years' probation. Agnew has the dubious distinction of being the first Vice President to depart office with a criminal record.