For the first six years following its ratification, the provisions of the 25th Amendment went unused. Then in a rapid series of events, over a period of fifteen months the provisions of the 25th would be invoked not once, not twice, but three times. The first of these would occur on October 10, 1973, when Vice President Spiro Theodore Agnew resigned from office.
An Unexpected Rise
The rise of Spiro "Ted" Agnew was one of unprecedented speed in 20th century American politics, with only Chester Arthur coming to the office of Vice President of the United States with lesser electoral experience. Elected to the relatively new position of Baltimore County Executive in the municipal elections of 1961, five years later he would easily thwart four others in pursuit of the Republican Party's nomination for Governor of Maryland, then win election with 49% of the vote in a three-way race, thanks in large part to a split in the Democratic Party, whose voters had nominated an avowed segregationist, George Mahoney. On January 25, 1967 he would be sworn in as Maryland's 55th Governor.
As the 1968 presidential race began to pick up, just as he had four years earlier Agnew had backed New York's Nelson Rockefeller's campaign, but feeling slighted by Rockefeller during the 1968 race, he backed away from "Rocky" and began expressing a more positive opinion of former Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon. As early as May, Agnew's name was being discussed within the Nixon campaign as a prospective Vice Presidential choice, and while mentioned as being "on the list" along with the names of Rockefeller, California Governor (and future President) Ronald Reagan and New York City mayor John Lindsay, no one either inside or outside the campaign saw Agnew as the likely choice.
In the weeks leading up to the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, the Maryland delegation enlisted Governor Agnew to agree to have his name put forth as a "favorite son" candidate for President - not because they thought his election likely or even possible, but because doing so would serve to demonstrate the delegation's interest in serving as a power broker should Nixon fail to be nominated on the first ballot (which, at the time, was in question). Perhaps if Nixon needed Maryland's delegates to secure the nomination, so it was believed, they could extract a promise from the nominee to provide Maryland (or its delegates) some form of preferential treatment if elected.
Once at the Republican convention however, Agnew would abandon his "favorite son" guise and wholeheartedly throw his support behind Nixon, placing the name of the former Vice President in nomination. Securing the nomination on the first ballot, on the final day of the convention, August 8th, Nixon would stun the nation by announcing that he'd picked Agnew as his running mate. In his acceptance speech given later that night, Agnew told the convention he had "a deep sense of the improbability of this moment," to which at countless television sets around the nation people no doubt retorted, "So do we..." Elected along with Nixon that November, Spiro Agnew would enter the Vice Presidency having just 713 days experience as Maryland's Governor.
An Even Less Expected Fall
Within two years of being sworn in the 39th Vice President of the United States, President Richard Nixon and his staff were quietly looking for a way to show Agnew to the exits. They enlisted friends of the administration to offer Agnew lucrative opportunities in the private sector to no avail. President Nixon suggested that the next opening on the Supreme Court would be his; Agnew said he didn't want it. Going into the 1972 presidential race, press speculation abounded that Agnew was going to be bumped off the Republican Party ticket in favor of Texas Governor John B. Connally. Agnew, who had all the diplomacy of Donald Trump and thought tact was what you used to hang picture frames, confronted the President directly about the rumors. Nixon, not accustomed to being backed into a corner like this, made an unequivocal commitment to Agnew being on the 1972 ticket. In short? He caved.
If by 1971 Nixon thought selecting Spiro Agnew as Vice President was ill-advised, by 1973 they thought selecting him for a second term was an unmitigated, potentially catastrophic, mistake. Shortly after being sworn in for a second term, a federal investigation of corruption was initiated to examine accusations that public officials in Baltimore County (currently serving ones) were accepting bribes ("kickbacks") from local contractors in exchange for being awarded local government contracts. While the Vice President wasn't the specific target of the investigation (being seven years removed from his service as Baltimore County Executive, it was felt had he committed any crime, the statute of limitations for it would have expired anyway). Within a matter of months however, the investigation revealed that at least one contractor had been kicking back 5% of the value of awarded contracts to Agnew - while Baltimore County Executive, while Governor of Maryland, and even during his early days as Vice President.
On August 1, 1973, the chief investigator formally advised the Vice President that he was under investigation for tax fraud. Agnew, defiant, held a press conference the following week to proclaim his innocence, calling the accusations "damned lies." As August turned into September, the Vice President's position changed; now he claimed he wasn't subject to criminal indictment, and in an enormously stupid move, on September 25th Agnew asked House Speaker Carl Albert to launch an impeachment investigation against him. With Richard Nixon under enormous fire for his role in the Watergate Affair, the last thing in the world the White House wanted was for the House of Representatives to use Agnew's prosecution as a "trial run" for impeaching the President of the United States. Fortunately (for Nixon, anyway), Albert advised Agnew that due to his standing directly below the Vice President in the presidential line of succession, it would be improper for him to order such investigation.
Now under enormous pressure from all sides, Agnew filed a motion to block an almost certain upcoming indictment, in the meantime giving public addresses asserting his innocence and claiming that his prosecutors were out to get him. Behind this public posturing however, Vice President Agnew knew that his days in that office were numbered; and that he needed to worry not about remaining in office, but remaining out of federal prison. Entering into negotiations with prosecutors, on the morning of October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew had a one-sentence letter of resignation delivered to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Hours later, private citizen Spiro Agnew would appear in a federal court in Baltimore and plead no contest to a single count of tax evasion; for which the sentence would be three years probation and a $ 10,000 fine.
In a single day, Spiro Theodore Agnew had gone from 39th Vice President of the United States to unemployed convicted felon.
What Happened Next
The Agnew resignation would pave the way for the first invocation of the provisions of the 25th Amendment - specifically, the provisions of Section 2. With the office of Vice President vacant, President Richard Nixon's first choice to succeed Agnew on October 10, 1973, as it had been in 1971, was Texas Governor John Connally. But remarkably, until this no one had actually asked Connally if he wanted the job. Through back channels he was offered, but immediately declined the appointment. Nixon then went to his second choice, nominating House Minority Leader Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. of Michigan on October 12, 1973. Ford, a 24 year House veteran, had built impeccable credentials and was widely respected on both sides of the political aisle.
Ford's confirmation hearings were run of the mill by 21st century standards, but at the time were seen as unusually contentious. The Vice President-designate was extensively questioned about contributions to his Congressional campaigns, over his defense of Nixon administration policies, on his civil rights record, and on claims he'd used his influence to impede the initial stages of an investigation of financial improprieties during the 1972 presidential election. Ultimately however Ford would enjoy a smooth confirmation, receiving Senate approval on November 27, 1973 and formal confirmation by his House colleagues nine days later by an overwhelming 387-35 vote. On December 6, 1973, Ford was sworn in as the 40th Vice President of the United States, completing the first use of the provisions of the 25th Amendment. Less than nine months later, the 25th would be invoked again, elevating Ford to the presidency.