Richard Nixon’s First Vice President? A Short Biography – Spiro Agnew

The following is a short biography on Spiro T. Agnew, based in part on a reading of Dennis Wepman article “Agnew, Spiro T” published in “American National Biography Online” that I read while at Liberty University. I admit that I was surprised to learn that Nixon had a first Vice President.  If you are interested in more modern topics,  the resources I have listed below will satisfy your curiosity about Richard Nixon’s fist Vice President! Enjoy.

Agnew, Spiro T.

Agnew T. Spiro T. Agnew was born into a Greek immigrant family in Baltimore Maryland on November 9, 1918. His father ran a successful business until the Great Depression hit. When his father turned to selling fruits and vegetables on the street, Agnew supplemented the family’s income by doing odd jobs while attending Forest Park Highschool. After graduating high school, Agnew spent three years attending classes at John Hopkins, where he studied chemistry. In 1940, however, he left John Hopkins and began taking night courses at University of Baltimore Law and worked two day jobs. He would marry a co-worker and have four children.

Army and Education

            Bronze Star

In 1941 Agnew was drafted into the US Army and served as a tank commander during the fighting in France and Germany, where he won the Bronze Star and was promoted to captain. He returned home and finished school on the GI Bill and eventually received an LL.B. from University of Baltimore. In 1949 Agnew received an addition LL.B. from the University of Maryland and opened his law practice. Remembering the taunting he received in high school for his first name, Agnew started using the name Ted and refused to name his children with Greek names.


Agnew joined many social and civic organizations and began his political participation as a member of the Democratic Party. Agnew severed relations with the Democrats and joined the Republican party in 1956. After helping get others elected to office, he was rewarded with an appointment to the County Zoning Board of Appeals, where he developed a reputation for high moral standards. In 1958 he was reappointed to a full term, becoming the chairman. A new county executive decided to replace Agnew in 1961, prompting Agnew to run and win election as County Executive in 1962, the first Republican to do so since 1895.

By Unknown author – 1967, Public Domain, 

In 1966 he became Governor of Maryland after beating the segregationist candidate by a wide margin. His governorship further developed his reputation as a law-and-order candidate. In the 1968 national election Agnew nominated Richard Nixon for president at the Republican convention. Nixon surprised everyone by selecting Agnew for his running mate. Although historians differ as to whether Agnew was an asset or liability to the Nixon campaign, the Nixon-Agnew ticket won the 1968 election for President and vice president by a narrow margin.

Vice President

Spiro Agnew, 39th Vice President of the United States and the 55th Governor of Maryland. Image taken in Washington, D.C.

As Vice President, Agnew delivered public addresses and became a major speaker for the Republican party. As Vice President, he could say things that Nixon, as President, could not say publicly. He spoke out against political dissidents and anti-war protesters, and routinely attacked the press. On national TV in 1969, Agnew called the press, “a tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one, and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government.” Despite seeming insensitivity to the poor and having a sometimes strained relationship with the President, he was reelected to office with Nixon in 1972.


During his second term, Agnew discovered that a Maryland Grand Jury was investigating allegations of corruption and bribery. Although Agnew denied these charges, he resigned and eventually pleaded no contest. Fined and disbarred, he was also ordered to pay back some $268,000 in bribes he was accused of taking while Governor of Maryland. He would later claim that the money he received was campaign contributions and personal gifts. Agnew would publish two books, a Cold War thriller called the “Canfield Decision”, and in 1980 a memoir titled, “Go Quietly, or else!” Agnew T. Spiro died in a hospital in Berlin, Maryland on September 17, 1996.

Additional reading

Agnew, Spiro T. Go Quietly … or Else. 1st ed. New York: Morrow, 1980.

Lippman, Theo. Spiro Agnew’s America.  First edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972.

FBI. Spiro T. Agnew. FBI Records: The Vault. FBI Records: The Vault — Spiro Agnew editors. Vice President Agnew Resigns. History. A and E television Networks. February 9, 2010. Accessed May 11, 2021.

Editors. Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996). Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series). March 14, 2001. Accessed May 11, 2021. Spiro T. Agnew, MSA SC 3520-1486 (


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