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Elliot Lee Richardson

In office
February 2, 1976 – January 20, 1977
President Gerald Ford
Preceded by Rogers Morton
Succeeded by Juanita M. Kreps

In office
May 25 – October 20, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Richard Kleindienst
Succeeded by William B. Saxbe
Robert Bork (acting)

In office
January 30 – May 24, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Deputy Bill Clements
Preceded by Melvin Laird
Succeeded by James R. Schlesinger

In office
June 24, 1970 – January 29, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Robert Finch
Succeeded by Caspar Weinberger

In office
January 23, 1969 – June 23, 1970
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Nicholas Katzenbach
Succeeded by John N. Irwin II

In office
President Gerald Ford
Preceded by Walter H. Annenberg
Succeeded by Anne Armstrong

In office
January 7, 1965 – January 1967
Governor John A. Volpe
Preceded by Francis X. Bellotti
Succeeded by Francis W. Sargent

In office
January 1967 – January 1969
Governor John A. Volpe
Preceded by Edward Brooke
Succeeded by Robert H. Quinn

Born July 20, 1920(1920-07-20)
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died December 31, 1999 (aged 79)
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Alma mater Harvard University
Religion Unitarian
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1942-1945
Rank First Lieutenant
Unit 4th Infantry Division (Medical Corps)
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Purple Heart

Elliot Lee Richardson (July 20, 1920 – December 31, 1999) was an American lawyer and politician who was a member of the cabinet of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. As U.S. Attorney General, he was a prominent figure in the Watergate Scandal, and resigned rather than refuse President Nixon's order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Richardson is the only individual to serve in four Cabinet-level positions within the United States government: Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1970 to 1973, Secretary of Defense from January to May 1973, Attorney General from May 24 to October 1973, and Secretary of Commerce from 1976 to 1977.


Early life and military service

Richardson was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended the Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, and then obtained his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, where he resided in Winthrop House, graduated cum laude in 1941, and was an editor of the Harvard Lampoon.

In 1942, following America's entry into World War II, Richardson entered the combat medical corps in the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. He participated in the June 6, 1944 Normandy Invasion, where he carried a legless Captain John Ahearn, the commanding officer of Company C of the 70th Tank Battalion to safety.

He was among the first troops of the "Big Ivy" to come up Causeway No. 2 from Utah Beach which had been under fire from German artillery at Brécourt Manor. He was among the many that noticed the guns ceasing their firing after (unbeknownst to him), paratroopers of the 101st under Lieutenant Richard Winters had knocked them out. After Stephen Ambrose's book Band of Brothers was published, he wrote to Winters and thanked him.

He continued on in the war in Europe with the 4th Infantry Division and received numerous decorations, including the Purple Heart medal. He was discharged in 1945 with the rank of first lieutenant.

In 1947, he graduated with a law degree from Harvard Law School. He also became editor and president of the Harvard Law Review.[1]

After his graduation from Law School, Richardson clerked for United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Judge Learned Hand, and then for Justice Felix Frankfurter of the Supreme Court of the United States. Richardson then served as U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts from 1959 to 1961, and was later elected the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and Attorney General of Massachusetts.

Richardson's son, Henry S. Richardson, is a professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, where he focuses in moral and political philosophy.

Cabinet career

Richardson had the nearly-unique distinction of serving in three high-level Executive Branch posts in a single year—the tumultuous year of 1973 – as the Watergate Scandal came to dominate the attention of official Washington, and the American public at large.

Having served three relatively uneventful years as the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for a popular sitting President, few would suspect the pivotal role Richardson would play in the chaos that would soon ensue.

Richardson was appointed United States Secretary of Defense on January 30, 1973. When President Nixon selected Richardson as Secretary, the press described him as an excellent manager and administrator, perhaps the best in the cabinet. In his confirmation hearing, Richardson expressed agreement with Nixon's policies on such issues as the adequacy of U.S. strategic forces, NATO and relationships with other allies, and Vietnam.

Although he promised to examine the budget carefully to identify areas for savings, and in fact later ordered the closing of some military installations, he cautioned against precipitate cuts. As he told a Senate committee, "Significant cuts in the Defense Budget now would seriously weaken the U.S. position on international negotiations—in which U.S. military capabilities, in both real and symbolic terms, are an important factor." Similarly, he strongly supported continued military assistance at current levels. During his short tenure, Richardson spent much time testifying before congressional committees on the proposed FY 1974 budget and other Defense matters.[2]

Richardson would serve as Secretary of Defense for only a few short months, before becoming Nixon's Attorney General, a move that would soon put him in the Watergate spotlight.[3]

In October 1973, after just five months as Attorney General, President Nixon ordered Richardson to fire the top lawyer investigating the Watergate scandal, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson had promised Congress he would not interfere with the Special Prosecutor, and, rather than disobey the President or break his promise, resigned. President Nixon subsequently asked Richardson's second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to carry out the order. He had also promised to not interfere, and also tendered his resignation. The third in command, Solicitor General Robert Bork, also planned to resign but Richardson persuaded him not to in order to ensure proper leadership at the Department of Justice during the crisis.[4] Bork carried out the President's order, thus completing the events generally referred to as the Saturday Night Massacre.

Just prior to the resignation of Vice-President Spiro Agnew, Richardson was portrayed as a cartoon figure with Agnew and Nixon on the cover of Time Magazine dated October 8, 1973.[5] Agnew was quoted as saying: "I am innocent of the charges against me. I will not resign if indicted!"[6]

During the Administration of President Gerald Ford, Richardson served as United States Secretary of Commerce from 1976 to 1977, and as ambassador to the United Kingdom. Although Richardson had been frequently discussed in the early 1970s as a likely candidate for President in 1976, Richardson's acceptance of the appointment to Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, as it is formally titled, effectively eliminated him from the domestic scene during the pre-election period. In departing for that position, he indicated to reporters that he would not run unless Ford decided against running himself.[7]

From 1977 to 1980, he served as an Ambassador at Large and Special Representative of President Jimmy Carter for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and head of the U.S. delegation to the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Seas.[8]

Later life and death

In 1980 Richardson received an honorary degree from Bates College. In 1984, he ran for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul Tsongas. He was defeated in the GOP primary by Ray Shamie, who lost the general election to John F. Kerry. Richardson was a moderate-liberal Republican, and his defeat at the hands of the very conservative Shamie was seen as symbolizing the decline of the moderate wing of the GOP, even in a section of the country where it was historically strong.

In the late '80s and early '90s, Richardson was associated with the Washington, D.C. office of the New York City law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, of which John J. McCloy was a founding partner. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Richardson was the attorney for Inslaw, Inc., an American software company which alleged that their software had been pirated by the U.S. Justice Department.

In 1994 Richardson backed President Bill Clinton during his struggle against Paula Jones' charge of sexual harassment. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

On December 31, 1999, the last day of the 20th century, Richardson died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of 79. Major media outlets, such as CNN, recognized him as the "Watergate martyr" for refusing an order from President Nixon to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox.[9]


  1. ^ "First Black Elected to Head Harvard's Law Review". NYT. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  2. ^ "SecDef Histories - Elliot Richardson". Secretary of Defense. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  3. ^ Doyle, James (1977). Not Above the Law: the battles of Watergate prosecutors Cox and Jaworski. New York: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-03192-7. 
  4. ^ Nissman, David M. (interviewed on 1998-10-13). "Interview with Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. Keeney" (PDF). U.S. Attorneys' Bulletin 47 (02, Cumulative Index): 2. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  5. ^ "TIME Magazine Cover: Spiro Agnew - October 8, 1973". TIME. 1973-10-08.,16641,19731008,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  6. ^ "Agnew Takes on the Justice Department". TIME. 1973-10-08.,9171,907981,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Power, Mobility and the Law of the Sea". Foreign Affairs. Spring 1980. Retrieved 2008-04-22.  (Article Preview).
  9. ^ "'Saturday Night Massacre' attorney general dies". (CNN). 1999-12-31. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Francis X. Bellotti
Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
1965 – 1967
Succeeded by
Francis W. Sargent
Preceded by
Nicholas Katzenbach
Under Secretary of State
1969 – 1970
Succeeded by
John N. Irwin II
Preceded by
Robert H. Finch
United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
June 24, 1970 – January 29, 1973
Succeeded by
Caspar Weinberger
Preceded by
Melvin Laird
United States Secretary of Defense
Served under: Richard Nixon

January 30, 1973–May 24, 1973
Succeeded by
James R. Schlesinger
Preceded by
Rogers Morton
United States Secretary of Commerce
Served under: Gerald Ford

1976 – 1977
Succeeded by
Juanita M. Kreps
Legal offices
Preceded by
Edward W. Brooke
Attorney General of Massachusetts
1967 – 1969
Succeeded by
Robert H. Quinn
Preceded by
Richard G. Kleindienst
United States Attorney General
Served under: Richard Nixon

May 24, 1973–October 1973
Succeeded by
William B. Saxbe
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Walter H. Annenberg
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
1975 – 1976
Succeeded by
Anne L. Armstrong


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