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October 10, 1973 - Agnew Resigns

Vice President Spiro Agnew, as part of a plea deal made to avoid jail time for accepting kickbacks as a public servant, resigned his office on October 10, 1973.

For the first six and a half years after its ratification in 1967, the provisions of the 25th Amendment went unused.  Then in a rapid series of events, over the next fifteen months the 25th would be invoked not once, not twice, but three times.  The first of these occurred on October 10, 1973 when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned from office.

Why did Agnew resign?

Prior to being plucked out of relative obscurity by Richard Nixon in 1968 to join him on the Republican presidential ticket, Spiro Theodore Agnew had made a fairly rapid ascent up the political ladder, going from Baltimore (Md.) County Executive to Governor of Maryland.  His selection stunned many, and like Dan Quayle's selection in the 1988 presidential campaign, people questioned Nixon's choice almost immediately.

Nixon chose Agnew predominately due to his nature - Agnew was combative, a right-wing, media-hating fighter whom Nixon felt would solidify the conservative "Goldwater wing" of the Republican Party in 1968.  By 1971 however, Nixon was looking for a way to show Agnew the door (in one instance he lined up a lucrative private sector job for Agnew, in another he floated the notion of a Supreme Court appointment), with speculation rampant that he'd be replaced with Texas Governor (and former Democrat) John Connally. 

Agnew eventually confronted Nixon about the rumors directly, at which point Nixon essentially caved and told "Ted" he'd be on the ticket for 1972.  And while Agnew's selection in 1968 was a questionable move, keeping Agnew in 1972 would prove a disastrous one.

While the Nixon-Agnew ticket won re-election in a landslide, by the spring of 1973 charges began to surface that Agnew had accepted a series of bribes and kickbacks amounting to nearly a quarter million dollars while serving as Governor of Maryland.  As 1973 progressed, evidence mounted against the Vice President, and by October a formal indictment had been prepared - the first time in American history a Vice President faced criminal charges since Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in their famed duel in 1804.

Following a great deal of defiant posturing in light of what the FBI considered overwhelming evidence, in early October the Nixon White House began applying pressure on Agnew to resign.  On October 10, Agnew finally relented, resigning the Vice Presidency and pleading nolo contendere (no contest) to the charges against him - a plea bargain that kept Agnew out of federal prison, instead costing him a $ 10,000 fine, three years probation, the Vice Presidency of the United States, the likely 1976 GOP presidential nomination, his ability to practice law (his native Maryland would disbar him), and his honor.

What happened next?

With Agnew out of the way and the Vice Presidency vacant, President Richard Nixon's first choice to succeed Agnew was the man he'd tried to push Agnew out the door for two years earlier - Texas Governor John Connally.  But as a former Democrat he was unlikely to be confirmed smoothly - a prospect that didn't deter Nixon until Connally finally told him he didn't want the job.

Nixon would settle on his second choice, and on October 12, 1973 he nominated House Minority Leader Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. of Michigan.  Ford, a 24 year House veteran, had built impeccable credentials and was widely respected on both sides of the aisle.  Ford's confirmation would also be easily achieved, as it seemed unlikely Congress would refuse to confirm one of their own.  Another point in Ford's favor:  he was a moderate, an image the White House wanted to exploit as a contrast to the bellicose Agnew.

Ford's confirmation hearings were run of the mill by 21st century standards, but at the time were seen as unusually contentious.  He was extensively questioned about contributions to his Congressional campaigns, over his defense of the Nixon administration on the House floor, on his civil rights record, and on claims he used influence to impede the initial stages of investigating financial improprieties during the 1972 presidential election.

In the end however, the Senate Rules Committee unanimously recommended Ford's confirmation, while the House Judiciary Committee voted 24-8 in favor of confirmation.  The Senate easily confirmed Ford on November 27, 1973, while the House followed suit nine days later by a 387-35 vote.  On December 6, 1973, Ford was sworn in as the nation's 38th Vice President in a simple ceremony, completing the first use of the 25th Amendment.  Less than nine months later, it would be used again - to elevate Ford to the office of President of the United States.

 

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